“If you hadn’t been disabled…” Many non-disabled people assume that I would’ve been far better off without one or both of my disabilities. My mother hears of a blind, non-autistic acquaintance of my sister’s and wishes all blind people were alike cause then I would be able to do fine at university and live on my own. My father is convinced that I’d have majored in something technical if I hadn’t been blind. Maybe, as a sighted NT, I would’ve majored in biology and lived in a college dorm like my sister. But maybe not.
The first strategy people, including people with disabilities, use to define what life would’ve been like for someone if they hadn’t had their disability, is to define the ways in which their disability is limiting them. For example, I dropped math and science and biology in high school because I wasn’t able to see the graphics one needed to see to follow these subjects, and I almost failed communication skills last year because I wasn’t able to apply the concepts we’d been taught to the given situation. And, when it comes to independent living, I’m not able to manage my own mail cause I can’t read it, and I’m not able to attend formal meetings at agencies alone because I get confused when I don’t know what’s expected of me. This seems to be a fairly surefire way of assessing what life would be like without a disability. However, not really, cause it isn’t black or white. I know a blind biologist, for instance, and several autistics who earned college degrees in social subjects. I also know many other people who don’t have disabilities, who failed math and science and biology and several who failed communication skills last year.
Another strategy is to compare me to people who don’t have my disabilities. This is easier when you have more than one disability, because that way you can discard one disability at a time, and images of someone with one disability, are less diverse than the non-disabled population. So in order to determine what I would’ve been like without autism, just take a blind person who you think has all other important qualities that I have, and decide that I would’ve been like him or her without my autism. In my case, the only important quality is intelligence, so you pick a blind person with high intelligence and decide I would’ve been like that person. This means I would’ve been successful at college and lived on my own. Same with an autistic – even though many intelligent autistics don’t live on their own or go to college, but as someone not involved in tha autistic community, you’d only have known the people who make it onto TV.
The problem with this strategy is, of course, that you can’t find someone who is exactly like your disabled loved one, but without their disability. I don’t know my sister’s blind acquaintance, so how can I be sure that we’re alike aside from the autism? Most likely, we’re not. And where do I find the autistic who has the exact same expression of their disability, and all other qualities the same as me, but who is sighted? I haven’t been able to find such a person.
Then comes the next strategy, which is to compare the disabled person to your image of them before you or they were aware of the impact of their disabilities. This is, in my case, especially possible with my autism, cause I wasn’t diagnosed till age twenty. So you take the expectations you had for me before I was diagnosed with my ASD. Clearly, this image includes success at college and living independently.
Of course, it is possible not to start experiencing visible problems until you’re diagnosed, or to have the problems worsen after a diagnosis, especially when you’ve long pretended to be normal and are now dropping a facade. However, in my case, have I ever actually been successful at college or lived independently? No. And in 2004, when my future image was drawn by my parents, did I have the skills to go to college and live on my own? Not at all.
Then again, is it really about disability? Or is it that the disabled person is not meeting up to what you expected them to be doing, and you chalk it up to disability because this is all you can imagine chalking it up to? Then realize how many non-disabled people are not meeting up to “normal” standards. Not everyone who graduates from my high level high school, will go to university, and many people live with their parents till they’re 25. Of course, statistically, disabled people are more likely to need support and less likely to go to college, but people aren’t statistics, are they? And, especially with someone with congenital disabilities, you cannot see the non-disabled person behind the disability, simply because there is none.
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