Last month an Ontario grandmother received an anonymous letter in the mail from an apparent mother in the neighborhood, who was furious over the “noise polluting whaling” of the woman’s 13-year-old autistic grandson. The writer suggested she “go live in a trailer in the woods with her wild animal kid” and even recommended euthanizing him so they’d all be better off.
The hateful letter went viral on the internet and people were appalled by its cruel and heinous content. My friend Chris Smith said she was outraged as well, but not surprised in the least.
“Nine out of ten medical professionals don’t know how to deal with mental disabilities,” she said. “How can we expect the general public to understand? Ignorance can sometimes breed extreme cruelty.”
She should know. Her 33-year-old mentally disabled daughter has been ostracized and discriminated against her entire life. Last fall she was assaulted, unprovoked, by a couple of teenagers who thought it would be a good idea to call her disgusting names and spray bear repellent directly into the eyes of her and her caretaker while they sat on a park bench eating a snack.
“Because of her mental ability she still thinks she did something wrong and deserved to be attacked,” Chris said. “She’s been self mutilating by digging into her own skin ever since.”
And it’s not just young thugs who have been awful. Chris said it’s not unusual for grown adults to stare at her daughter rudely, or completely ignore her like she doesn’t exist.
“I even had a doctor suggest that I stop putting so much effort into her and just allow her to die during one of her seizures,” she said.
It’s hard to imagine that such a complete lack of compassion for our fellow humans still exists during these modern times, but, heartbreakingly, it does.
Back in the day when institutionalizing people with disabilities was the norm, my grandmother’s friends Donna and Ed rejected the advice of everyone and raised their severely mentally and physically handicapped son in their own home. Growing up surrounded by the love and attention of his parents, Donny was light years ahead of the men that I took care of in a group home while I was in my early twenties.
The four men, aged 30-40, living in the home where I worked were all abandoned at birth because of the disabilities they were born with. None of them could speak or go to the washroom themselves, or do many of the things that Donny was able to do. It seemed clear to me that they were in far worse condition because they had been hidden away like monsters in an institution for most of their lives.
“Things are much better than they used to be,” Chris said in regard to the way our society treats the disabled now. “But for the people out there who are still mean and intolerant, they need to know that this could happen to anyone, anytime. One day they could be perfectly fine, but the next they could have an accident and be severely handicapped for the rest of their lives too.”
Another one of my close friends explained how his disabled son had become his teacher and motivator, humanizing and humbling him in ways he never imagined. He also pointed out that some people are afraid of these special individuals, but shouldn’t be.
“Mentally handicapped people are rarely criminals, bigots, deadbeats or any other character type that plague the general population,” he said. “They can be childlike, frustrated, difficult and obsessive-compulsive, but it’s almost always an honest expression of their true self.”
If we keep that in mind when dealing with a mentally disabled person, it should be much easier to connect with them. Vulnerable and innocent, they are worthy of our best.
Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at www.LoriWelbourne.com