Five common myths about intellectual disabilities
My brother and I, at the start of a lifelong journey together.
There are many myths and misconceptions about people with intellectual disabilities. People tend to believe what they have heard or experienced, but sometimes that means information that is not entirely accurate. As a brother or sister of a disabled brother, I have experienced some of these misconceptions. I might have even believed a few of them at once. We all make mistakes. The important thing is to be open to learning and change. Today’s blog will scratch the surface by examining five common myths or misconceptions.
1. People with intellectual disabilities are always happy.
There are certain syndromes, such as Williams syndrome, which include a happy temperament among the defining characteristics. Williams syndrome is a genetic disease present at birth. One of the common attributes found in people with Williams syndrome is a very social personality. However, most people with intellectual disabilities experience the same range of emotions as we do. One recent evening, I was trying to have a phone conversation with my brother. He was struggling harder than usual to express his thoughts. Finally he sighed and said “bad day”. We all have good days and bad, including people with intellectual disabilities. It would be unfair to place an unrealistic expectation of perpetual happy and smiling attitudes on people based solely on their intellectual disability.
2. Down syndrome is the only cause of intellectual disability.
When most people hear the term intellectually disabled, they imagine someone with Down syndrome. People with Down syndrome are more likely to be featured in television shows and commercials when a person with a developmental disability is featured. The image of a person with Down’s syndrome has become almost synonymous in the minds of most people with intellectual disabilities. Down syndrome is the result of an extra chromosome, forty-seven instead of forty-six. Worldwide, Down syndrome occurs in one in 600 to 700 births.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is also a major cause of intellectual disability and a preventable cause. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the result of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Symptoms for a person with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome vary, but can include distinctive facial features, including small eyes, an unusually thin upper lip, a short, upturned nose, and a smooth surface of skin between the nose and the nose. upper lip, deformities of joints, limbs, and fingers, slow physical growth before and after birth, difficulty with vision or hearing problems, shortness of the head and size of the brain, and deformities heart, kidney and bone problems. Intellectual disabilities and social and behavioral problems are often associated with alcoholism and fetal syndrome.
Another common cause of intellectual disability is fragile X syndrome, which affects men more often than women. People with fragile X may have developmental delays, learning disabilities, and social and behavioral problems such as not making eye contact, having difficulty paying attention, and clapping their hands. Men with fragile X usually have some degree of intellectual disability, and autism frequently occurs in fragile X.
Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and fragile X are the most common diagnoses. Still, it’s estimated that up to two-thirds of people with DID (including my brother) have no diagnosis or known cause.
3. Intellectual disabilities are caused by the sins of previous generations.
OK, I know that sounds pretty far fetched, but it was a belief held by many religious people. Some churches have continued this belief even until our recent past. The history of people with intellectual disabilities and religious beliefs dates back to the ancient Greeks, who viewed a person’s disabilities as a punishment from the gods. In the Middle Ages in Eastern Europe, people with intellectual disabilities were considered witches and were often imprisoned, tortured, burned and killed. Theology in 16th and 17th century England also pointed the blame of handicaps to discontent with God.
Some church leaders blamed parents for physical, mental, and intellectual disabilities. This belief has its origin in the teachings of the Old Testament, which stipulated that those who did not follow the instructions of the Ten Commandments would be punished on the children for three or four generations.
At the beginning of the 20e century, the Roman Catholic Church systematically refused to give the sacraments of Holy Communion to children with intellectual disabilities. Fortunately, most people have shied away from this misinformed mindset, and many churches have programs for people with special needs.
4. People with intellectual disabilities are not interested in sex.
Sexuality is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about when it comes to people with intellectual disabilities. It is often assumed that people with IDD are asexual. They are seen as eternal children with no interest in sex or romance, a view that makes it easier to avoid the subject. This misguided attitude means that sex education is rarely offered, leaving people with IDD vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
The reality is that there can be people with DID who are asexual just like there are in the neurotypical population, but there are also people with DID who are heterosexual or LBGTQIA. Everyone, including people with IDD, has the inherent right to sexual expression, but with that right comes the need for information and education. This much needed sex education is rare, whether for lack of resources or caregivers or for parents’ reluctance to tackle a difficult subject.
5. People with intellectual disabilities are totally different from neurotypical people.
The fantastic reality is that we are all designed to be beautifully unique. Even identical twins don’t share the same fingerprints! Yet despite our differences, we are all more alike than different, including people with intellectual disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities may need additional resources and assistance. For example, my brother has difficulty communicating, so he needs a listening and patient ear. The impatient side of me wants to hurry and not stop to read what he’s saying. But when I stop and take the time to listen, really listen, i find out he’s not that different after all. He wants to be recognized. He wants to be loved and he wants to be included. This is what we all want. This is what we all deserve.
My brother and I still walk our path together as longtime friends.