I want to introduce you to my son. Five feet seven inches with dark chocolate skin, even darker eyes, and the sweetest smile you’ve ever seen. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but when he has something to say you can tell he has carefully chosen his words. He feels deeply; he’s the child who, of his own volition, was baptized in the Gulf of Mexico while on a church youth trip because his soul was so moved. He’s the oldest boy in our family and takes his role as “protective big brother” very seriously. Is he a perfect kid? Absolutely not. But he is still an amazing kid despite his flaws.
My son is an “old school” Southern gentleman who shows respect for me by opening my doors, carrying my bags, pumping my gas, and (occasionally) cleaning my car. He’s the child that gave up his 15th birthday celebration to ride with me during rush hour across town to the humane society in hopes of saving an injured baby bird who’d gotten separated from its mother/nest. He’s the child who eats sour rice (a Liberian dessert) on his deceased biological mother’s birthday to honor her memory because that was her favorite food.
My son was born for greatness. He possesses a natural ability to solve problems and make sense of his surroundings. Nicknamed the “Human GPS”, he is a master at recalling and/or determining routes, detours, shortcuts, and the like. He also loves trivia and interesting facts about a variety of topics, especially history. Extremely adventurous, he likes to learn new things, visit new places, experiment with various foods and activities. But he is happiest when he has either a ball or some type of technology/electronic device in his hands.
His first name comes from the Bible; his last name comes from a long line of proud, free Liberians who left the shackles of slavery behind long ago. Like his people, he is strong. But he is also gentle and compassionate. He will often overlook or forgive the transgressions of others in order to seek peace. He consents to playing with action figures and/or dolls, watching Disney/PBS Kids/Nick Jr. cartoons, or playing hide and seek/tag/”I Spy” at the request of his youngest siblings…because he likes to make them happy.
My son is so many, many things. He’s handsome. He’s brave. He’s helpful. And he’s also a person with an intellectual disability.
The world has never been enamored of disabled individuals, whether one has physical, developmental, psychiatric, sensory, or other forms of disability(ies). It doesn’t matter that it’s 2016; ableism is alive and well. As are other isms. Not only is my son disabled, he’s black. And he’s a refugee…which in the mind of some misguided political figures means he’s a potential terrorist (eye roll). Given these factors, the “odds” for a happy, fulfilling life aren’t stacked in his favor according to society’s standards.
I know the statistics. I know what people think. I know how my child is portrayed on paper in his IEP documents, neurocognitive evaluations, standardized test scores, etc. Like someone with insurmountable deficiencies. Like someone who is “behind” his peers. Like someone who has “low” cognition and abilities, and therefore needs “lower” standards. Negative, negative, negative, with little to no emphasis on his positive attributes.
To that I say SCREW your effing IQ tests.
My child is a living, thinking, feeling being. A number on a piece of paper is not indicative of his worth as a person. Not to mention there are unavoidable biases in even the most credible and widely used tests anyway; as such it might not be an accurate depiction of his intellect. The issues with properly capturing the IQ of many marginalized groups, including people of color, nonspeaking individuals, and non-Westerners, are many. But even if we put aside that matter and *assume* the IQ ascribed to him is correct, that doesn’t diminish my son’s value.
He doesn’t need to have a particular IQ in order to be a good person. In order to have deep thoughts. In order to have the right to be in charge of his own life.
He doesn’t need to have a particular IQ to pursue his dreams, to make a living, to get married if he chooses, to have a satisfying sex life if he chooses, to have a family if he chooses.
He doesn’t need to have a particular IQ to vote, or to own property, or to start a business, or to help others, or to worship where he chooses, or to become someone others care about, count on, and look up to.
Everyone does not have to be nor want to be a scholar/nerd/ultra-intellectual/”brain-iac” in this world. There’s more to my son than how he “performs” academically or whatever.
I’m sick of the unspoken disdain and double standards with regard to certain disabilities. I’m tired of feeling like people are (knowingly or unknowingly) creating hierarchies of various diagnoses. That’s not right and it’s not cool. This isn’t some type of competition. I refuse to allow people to pit the diagnoses of my gifted autistic youngest daughter against those of my intellectually disabled non-autistic oldest son. I’m disgusted by some people who salivate over her advanced cognitive abilities yet have no comparable compliments for the many positive qualities my son possesses. More than disgusted; I’m pissed.
So her IQ is twice that of his. So freaking what? His kindness is twice that of ANYONE I’ve ever met in over three decades on this planet.
There is no “grade scale” when it comes to disabilities. Every member of my immediate family – myself, hubby, and kids – is disabled. I won’t let you “rank” us. I won’t let you divide us. We are a family whose members are autistic and/or gifted and/or people with ADHD and/or people with psychiatric disabilities and/or HIV and/or speech impairment and/or intellectual disability and/or arthritis. And we are one. Like somebody’s quote says, “different, not less.”
I do not personally have intellectual disability. But I refuse to let you – or anyone – subtly belittle or disregard people like my son while trying to “sympathize” with another group or disability to gain favor for yourself or to prove a point.
There is no d@mn Switzerland of inclusivity. Intellectually disabled people matter. Period. They are not some subclass beneath autistics, or people with physical disabilities, or whomever. If we need ALL kinds of minds, if we need to respect ALL people, if we need to honor the personhood of ALL people, that includes people like my son. Regard and treat him as a whole person, not solely a number on the IQ scale. Screw IQ tests.
And if you can’t do that? Then screw you too, because you’re part of the problem.