Down Syndrome & Mental Retardation

*The following account is not meant to cover ALL cases of children with special needs, but only one special case which I found to be quite contrary to what the health care system intends to accomplish with help and support programs.

Boy: I love you!

Girl: But you tried to kill me many times!

Boy: I love you!

Girl: But you destroyed my life and make me miserable!

Boy: I love you!

Girl: But nothing you do shows me love, and everything you do shows me hate!

Boy: Well, I got mental retardation and you have to forgive all my mistakes and accept my twisted, horribly dangerous and deleterious to you definition of love. Otherwise you're selfish and mean and I'll get my therapists to tell you the same thing! (and I'll also stalk you to death… and they'll help me, because I'm a child with special needs, which means I have all the privileges and none of the responsibilities, even though I stopped being a child many decades ago…)

The Diagnostic and Statistical manual (DSM, several versions) published by The American Psychiatric Association (APA) outlines disorders involving mental retardation. Mental retardation is usually defined as IQ (Intelligence Quotient) below 50 points.

In today's blog entry, I would like to address the treatment of children with special needs in our society. However, I am focusing on the reverse side of the medal, on the (probably few) cases, when the special needs child (now well in his 50s) starts to abuse the system…

First of all, I have a degree in psychology and some (sparse) clinical experience. As most people who have at some point in their lives been unemployed know, looking for a job involves browsing through job offerings and finding the one that best fits your qualifications. For example, if I see an employer advertising a position for which a Master's degree in engineering is required, alongside 10 years of experience in aeronautics, I will pass on the job offering. I will not expect the interviewer to completely overlook my lack of qualifications based on the fact, that, say, he or she likes me and wants to be my friend…

But what does that have to do with today's article? Simple. Too many people have been (falsely!) misled by society to believe that they can achieve anything, if only they try hard enough, want it enough or are loved enough. But, it's simply not true. You cannot be an engineer with unfinished high school and no experience. A 60-year-old paraplegic cannot be the new star player of the National Hockey League, and a 80-year-old, heavily overweight, short woman cannot be America's next supermodel. Not because people are bad, but because life is hard/harsh and life is what it is: Not a fairytale.

Something I dislike about Canada versus the United States is the greater importance we seem to accord to people with difficulties. For instance, in America, elementary schools getting the best grades are allocated more funds than less achievement prone schools. The reverse is true for Canada. In the same way, I remember a particular story which left me perplexed the one time I was assigned as a psychotherapy counselor to a kindergarten facility.

At the facility, one child was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. He had severe mental retardation, and even the simplest everyday tasks were a real challenge to him. Of course, many people felt sorry for him and pitied him as a result, but the perverted effect was that he evolved into this self-entitled, mean, little brat who knew no boundaries. Sometimes, by trying to accommodate someone with a mental illness, we unwillingly teach them that any and all their behavior is ok, even if it hurts others, that they are somehow above making efforts, because they are 'special'…

I know many of you will hate me for telling the truth, but it gets worse. The child constantly picked on a little girl there. He stole her toys, pushed her to the ground, punched her in the face several times and was bullying her to such an extent that the little girl stopped attending preschool altogether, out of fear. Nobody did anything because he was a child with special needs and she was a healthy girl. But in the real world, once we get past governmental subsidies and additional funds and resources with those facing extra challenges, the healthy little girl is likely to be more productive and more likely to generate something of value for the economy, than the little boy who cannot even tie his shoes without the constant special help of two babysitters and one extra nanny (paid for by the government!). In my personal opinion, the situation was exacerbated by the fact that the little boy was Canadian, while the little girl while likewise Canadian, was of Hungarian origin. Funny how if anyone else did the dangerous, abusive (and illegal between adults!) things he did, they would be arrested and perhaps even imprisoned. But hey, he's got problems, so let's make her suffer, and focus on making it easier for him to feel good about the abusive, uncaught criminal he is growing up to be. So why did the fact that he had Down Syndrome and severe mental retardation suddenly obliterated the fact that she bled, that she was also human, that she was hungry (because he continuously stole her food)? Many people get very uncomfortable looking at things from this perspective, but the fact that he was a special needs child did not automatically mean that her life was worthless and that none of her needs mattered at all, but at least in that particular case, it seemed it did…

red flowers

Image by Megan Jorgensen