1. !ndigo
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    !ndigo Member

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    Disabilities and how to talk about them

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by !ndigo, Jan 10, 2015.

    In my story almost everyone has certain mental abilities but a few don't. I'm sort of imagining that these kids are seen as disabled or developmentally delayed and are treated different because of it.

    I'm particularly concerned with how a parent would react to the discovery that their child has some sort of mental disability. How would they likely act initially? How would they discuss is with the child? How would they discuss it with siblings? How would neighbors react and treat the family/child? etc...

    I know that there's no direct parallel between what I'm describing and anything that exists in our world. I'm really looking for any personal stories that anyone is willing to share.

    Thank you!
     
  2. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    A family I know was informed of this very thing when their son was born 32 years ago. They were recently profiled in a denominational magazine. Here's the link: http://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=836

    I can testify personally that in his own milieu the young man featured is himself, not his disability.

    How people would treat the mentally disabled in your story's world would depend upon the abilities of those people's hearts.
     
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  3. Fan_Farming_Tastic
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    Fan_Farming_Tastic Member

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    My oldest is on the autism spectrum. I can certainly give you specifics about my own experience, but I can truthfully say that it's not always the same. In our case, we felt strongly that something was different and were not surprised or upset or angry when she was diagnosed. More relieved that we had a way to protect her from people's ignorance, honestly. We were really frank with her (she was 6 when diagnosed) about what was going on and why. Her sister isn't yet three, and so doesn't have any real understanding other than that she has a sister who she loves. As for neighbors, friends, strangers... it can be isolating sometimes, and confusing much of the time. I don't know that ASD is quite the sort of person with disabilities that you are characterizing, so not sure if more detail would even be helpful.
     
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  4. thatoneauthor
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    thatoneauthor Member

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    Why is everyone mentally disabled in your story? And how i would make it is, have the hero be disordered, and their parents don't approve of it.
    It'll be dark, but have lots of conflict that will get me rooting for the hero!
     
  5. Fan_Farming_Tastic
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    Fan_Farming_Tastic Member

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    It sounds more like a fantasy where not being able to read minds (for example) might be seen as a disability to the larger community, who all have that skill. But I do like dark and disordered.
     
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  6. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's how I read it, too. Those without these special abilities (what we would call normal human beings) would be seen as handicapped.

    Me, I think dark and disordered is overdone these days. (Alliteration. Sorry.) It's too glib. More skillful and satisfying would be to depict how the "disabled" protagonist confronts and challenges the established order of that society so it, in his milieu at least, arrives at a new order. Show the conflict from both sides. After all, the development of special abilities has risen out of the society's needs, hasn't it? It can't be just the reader going, "Poor handicapped kid, everybody's picking on him to be picking on him!" Some other character saying, "Forrest, we really like you, but to survive around here you gotta be able to do more than run!" is more wrenching.

    And harder to write, if you don't want your story to degenerate into the type of sentimental, "morally-uplifting" tale you get in grade-school anti-bullying lessons. But do any of us really want the writing process to be too easy?
     
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  7. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    In my experience with a son with autism (who actually, it was discovered DIDN'T have autism, but rather something else that looked like autism for a while) what I experienced as a mother was fear. Not of the disorder, but of the unknown. Of how he would be treated by others. Of whether or not I could give him the life he deserved, if he'd ever be able to take care of himself, if he would always live with us then what would happen if something happened to us, of just so many unknowns and of being able to do the best things for him. A huge fear of dying crept in for a while, because I had so much responsibility, what would happen if I couldn't be here anymore? Doubt. Was I making the right choices? Was I making things better, or worse by going against the grain of what people "normally" do in this case? Just tumultuous feelings. I felt alone, because I was going to doctors begging them to do something as simple as check his blood work and no one would listen and I KNEW, I simply KNEW in my gut that something was causing his symptoms, but no one would listen. It was extremely isolating. If I expressed what I thought might be going on, I was "in denial", or "couldn't accept it", and it was the farthest thing from the truth. I was simply a mother with intuition, and no one would help us for a long time. I no longer wanted to socialize, and became obsessive over finding a doctor who would just listen, would just take some blood and be able to say "You are wrong, see this." and then I'd be okay. I finally found one, and instead I heard "Well, by golly, you were right. Let's treat this."

    The way I observed others reacting was either A. Denial. Usually by grandparents or people close to him. "He'll talk when he's ready!" "He just needs time." "Einstein didn't talk till he was four!" "It's over diagnosed." Etc. and B. People who met him at first, when his speech problems became more obvious, or he'd ignore them completely would quietly observe him for a while, then they'd glance at me quickly, like I was supposed to explain something about why he couldn't stop humming. Or they'd furrow their brow in a concerned manner, or offer ridiculous advice. If I wanted to talk about things regarding it, people would listen, but they wouldn't HEAR. It was so far from their world, they just pacified me, so I retreated into myself, became less social for a while, because I was on path Q and everyone else was on path 3.

    In our case, it was discovered that it was actually health issues that were causing the symptoms, and once treated, his symptoms of autism fell away. What I then experienced was people who had previously been in denial suddenly acknowledging that there had been a problem. Or others going "Wow, he's so DIFFERENT!" Suddenly there were more social opportunities where those doors had previously closed. Personally, I experience a great deal of resentment. Because I had been so alone on the journey before, when I had needed people, no one was there. Now suddenly I had "fixed" him (in their eyes) and he was good enough for them. I wanted to slap a bunch of people in the forehead.
     
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  8. !ndigo
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    !ndigo Member

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    Oops, sorry for not making that clear. It's like Catrin Lewis and Fan_Farming_Tastic said, 95% of people have special abilities and are seen as normal. The ones without (normal by our standards) are seen as disabled.
     
  9. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I work in an elementary school where I see a lot of parents working to figure out how to deal with various special needs of their children.

    Unfortunately, I think you need to answer your question based on your individual characters. I mean, there are loads of different reactions that would be possible or reasonable in general, but only a couple that would be possible or reasonable for any given character.

    Is your character gentle and sweet and optimistic? He's going to react one way, while someone more bitter and jaded might react another.

    Frustrating, I'm sure, but you know your characters best! You tell us how they react!
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My answer would depend partly on what kind of ability is missing--what its function is. Is it something that is essential in day to day social interaction, analogous to the ability to use language or the ability to pick up social cues? Or is it something much less tied to social interaction, analogous to the ability to read or, more severely, blindness?
     
  11. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Precisely. And a lot depends on whether your story is about the character and his "disability," or rather about how his "disability" makes life challenging/difficult/dangerous for him and those close to him in a specific situation. In time of war, for instance.
     
  12. Nicoel
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    Nicoel Contributing Member

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    It all depends on your characters personalities and abilities.

    I was born with a physical disability, and because the doctors gave up hope on me when I was 3 days old my mom said, "Fuck that - if I have anything to say about it, she's going to live." She worked as hard as she could to make sure I had a decent childhood while keeping me safe and alive. And thank god she did.

    Your characters could adopt that same attitude - "My son/daughter will be fine."
    But in reality there will probably be one major correlation - there will be fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the future. They will be afraid if their child will be accepted. Fear if they will be accepted. But how they deal with that - whether they let that grow into hate, or distrust, or anger. Or let it grow into strength, perseverance. That's all up to your characters.

    I've also been friends with several people on the autistic spectrum, and I mostly found out that they were autistic within minutes of meeting them, or was told before. Of course, in the beginning I was much too young to really know what that meant, so to me, they were different. Weird. I couldn't understand why they were acting the way they were. why they thought the way they did. But I reacted differently than my classmates (possibly because I was somewhat of an outcast myself). I would be like, "OKAY you're not talking today, I'll talk to you then. If you don't want to listen to it, speak up and change the subject." (It sounds rude/bitchy when I put it like that, but it actually worked and I got respect because of it) . Or I would just do whatever they wanted to do, and I wouldn't let their seeming brusqueness offend me. And in the end, I made some amazing friends that have changed who I am as a person.
     
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  13. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Jim Aikin's The Wall at the Edge of the World has a storyline that follows your question to a tee, though it may not have an outcome you want to necessarily follow. In this story, Danlo, the MC, belongs to a society of telepaths in a post-apocalyptic coastal, southern-ish California (think from about Monterey down to LA). The telepaths have a semi-gestalt mind. Physical proximity matters, so its not like a true hive mind, but its close enough that those who are born unable to joint the "ktess" (what they call the quasi-hive mind) are treated as abomination and ritually killed. The telepaths will not tolerate their presence and the inability to know them through the "ktess". There are some individuals who aren't completely cut off from the "ktess" but they can only connect tenuously. These are referred to as "thickers". They are scorned, but not killed. Those with very high ability belong to a kind of religious police force called "jodies" and they handle dealing with abominations and other rituals to include a strange ceremony where two consciousnesses that were once a man and woman can make an appearance through the "ktess". I want to remember the woman's name is Olivia. Anyway, they are worshiped by the telepaths and live within the "ktess".

    The MC faces the ugliness of his "utopian" world when his wife falls ills and upon recuperating she has become a "null" and is killed. He gets kidnapped by wild women from the other side of the wall who are all nulls and is dragged across the lower part of what was once the U.S. then the story unfolds.
     

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