There’s this line that people believe in. That, as a person with a disability, you had better be on the right side of, or else.
This is how the trope goes:
If you’re on the right side of the line, you’re almost-normal. Sure, you’re disabled, but the only real disability in life is a bad attitude. You’re fine. Really. So inspiring. Just don’t demand special treatment.
If you’re on the wrong side of the line, you’re not really a person. You get called the r-word. Or low functioning. Or having a young mental age. Or whatever term for “not quite a real person” is currently fashionable. You’re seen as someone who needs to be institutionalized. Controlled. Protected. Micromanaged. For your own good. Because you’re dangerous. No one should have to deal with someone like you.
Everyone’s afraid that they’ll end up on the wrong side of the line. Or that their kid will. Because the line could always get drawn differently, and you could easily end up on the wrong side, this time. Because the line is about power, and perception, not innate qualities.
People are often afraid that if their kid waves their hand too much, the line will get drawn on the wrong side of them. Or if they hit people. Or if they yell. Or if they fail a class. Or can’t learn to drive. It’s terrifying. No one wants to disapear into that place beyond the line, and no one decent wants to see their kid end up there. (The unfortunate reality is that some parents very much do want to put their kid on that side of the line. But they shouldn’t, and a lot of people don’t.)
The thing is, the line is not real. The r-word doesn’t apply to anyone. Neither does “low functioning”, which is the new pseudo-clinincal way of calling people the r-word. The line is something that gets done to people, not a description of attributes people actually have.
Keeping this in mind helps. It’s not a complete defense; people are going to draw lines and you might someday end up on the wrong side no matter what you do (although there are ways of resisting).
But it helps to know that you don’t deserve it, and that you’re a full human being no matter what happens. And that your kid is. And that everyone else is too.
And, if you know that the line isn’t real, it can help you to avoid hurting people. If you know that people are fully real and that the r-word doesn’t apply to anyone, you can learn not to think of anyone as too r-word or low functioning to be real. If you know the line isn’t real, you can stop drawing it and respect everyone. That’s not everything. But it’s something.