Sabotage disguised as acceptance

Acceptance is important. It’s one of the most crucial skills disabled people can develop. We have to learn to see ourselves as we are, and accurately

Acceptence is constantly, constantly undermined from a number of directions.

One of the most insidious things undermining acceptance is contact with people who speak in positive terms, but don’t believe in our abilities or agency even a little.

They will often call what they are doing acceptance, while at the same time doing everything in their power to convince us that disability means that we are fundamentally incapable of doing anything, that we shouldn’t try, and that we should just let them take over and run our lives.

This is fairly common in a certain kind of toxic parent community. (It’s also a common abuse dynamic in relationships between adults). Here’s part of the parent version:

Sometimes when parents say “My child is perfect the way she is,” what they really mean is “I don’t want my child to gain any skills that will enable her to separate from me, and I’m going to make sure she doesn’t.”

Some parents like this will give their disabled child anything but respect. For instance:

  • Some parents will give nonverbal children anything they point to
  • And will supply a lot of whatever their child expresses interest in
  • But no matter how old their child gets, they never stop treating them like a toddler. Even when they’re well into adulthood
  • And they don’t teach them about the world
  • Or talk to them about anything complex
  • Or try to find out what they think about anything more complicated than which objects they like
  • And won’t do anything to give them access to more complex communication
  • They will say that there’s no need for that, because their connection with their child is so deep that they understand everything they mean
  • That’s not true. Loving your child doesn’t make you a mindreader. Here’s a good post by a parent on the damage that approach does.
  • Even if parents infallibly knew what their child was thinking; kids need to be able to communicate with people other than their own parent
  • (Particularly since most children outlive their parents, and kids who can only communicate with their parents eventually end up unable to communicate with anyone)

Some parents will do anything for their disabled child — so long as it doesn’t run the risk of their child becoming more autonomous and less dependent on them. Eg:

  • Some parents prefer to carry disabled kids who are capable of learning how to walk
  • Some parents will put a lot of effort into making sure they’re always available to push their kid in an adaptive stroller, but adamantly refuse to get them a wheelchair they can propel themselves
  • Some parents will spend massive amounts of time putting their kids into complex outfits daily — and refuse to buy them any clothing that they can put on and take off independently

Some parents will allow their disabled child to do anything — except show consideration for others or develop reciprocal relationships not orchestrated by parent’s script. Eg:

  • They’ll allow their kid to boss people around at home, but they won’t let them go to any other kid’s house, ever, claiming that it’s somehow unsafe (even if their kid doesn’t have complex medical needs)
  • (Parents who do this often also do things like recruit children to come over and act like friends according to the parent’s script. For instance, by playing a game with their child and letting them win.)
  • Sometimes children who get overloaded hit people, are embarrassed, and want to apologize for hitting. Parents in this mindset tell them that it’s ok, that they couldn’t help it, and that they shouldn’t worry about it and definitely shouldn’t apologize.

Doing this kind of thing is not disability acceptance, even if the one doing it describes everything in flowery language. Sabotaging a child’s independence is not acceptance. Forcing a child into dependency is not acceptance. Destroying a child’s ability to engage in reciprocal relationships is not acceptance. Treating an adult as a child is not acceptance. Treating a disabled adult as a puppy or a plant is not love. That kind of stuff is just ableism.

People who say things like that aren’t accepting us as people. They’re saying that we’re not full people, and that they get spiritual satisfaction from having unpeople around.

We’re people. All the way down. Real acceptance is about seeing us as full human beings, acknowledging the impact disability has on us, and committing to finding ways to accommodate disability.

Short version: Treating disabled children and adults like puppies or toys is never ok, even if you call it acceptance and positivity.