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Developmental Disability Myths

June 26, 2014

The myths surrounding developmental disabilities usually have no basis in fact. They are unfounded beliefs or assumptions that have been perpetuated for so long that they have been accepted as truth by some in society even though their inaccuracy is obvious. These myths create indifference and intolerance. They foster stereotypes that are completely unfair and that can lead to injustice for human beings who have done nothing to deserve such treatment.

The following is a sampling of the many misconceptions that some people still have about individuals with intellectual challenges.

MYTH: People with developmental disabilities are all the same.

This attitude is the result of a lack of interaction between people within society. Once those with intellectual challenges enjoy inclusion, it quickly becomes apparent that they are completely unique individuals with their own distinct personalities. They have their own likes and dislikes, and they have their own wants and needs. When we embrace diversity, we strengthen our communities by giving everyone the opportunity to be appreciated for who they are.

MYTH: Children with developmental disabilities are a burden to their families.

While it is true that raising a child with special needs can be challenging, it is no less true that the beauty and power of unconditional love provides the patience and strength required to meet those challenges. As a family pulls together to support their loved one, it makes them grow closer, and the complete acceptance that the child experiences builds self-esteem and confidence. Parents view their children as blessings not burdens.

MYTH: People with developmental disabilities cannot learn.

This kind of declarative statement defies logic. All human beings begin to learn from the moment they are born. Individuals with intellectual challenges are constantly learning. They learn academic skills. They learn social skills. They learn living skills, and they learn job skills. And, out of necessity, they learn to practice tolerance as they graciously forgive the ignorance of people that refuse to understand them and accept them.

MYTH: It is not offensive to use the R-word.

People with developmental disabilities are fully aware of when they are being disrespected, and they should not be forced to endure such insensitive behavior from others. To be demeaned or humiliated for who you are is inexcusable. Using this type of language is a hateful form of bullying that attempts to deny dignity to another human being. Under no circumstances is it ever appropriate to use the R-word.

MYTH: Individuals with developmental disabilities should not be part of the community.

In reality they have the right to full inclusion in all aspects of the community. Society benefits when people with intellectual challenges are allowed to develop and share their skills and talents. Everyone learns from each other when there is ongoing interaction between all people based on mutual respect. Embracing diversity leads to a stronger more vibrant community for everyone.

MYTH: Individuals with developmental disabilities have behaviors that cannot be understood.

To truly understand someone you have to care. You have to be willing to make the effort to get to know them as a person rather than as a diagnosis so that you have a frame of reference for what triggers a particular behavior and how it can be dealt with appropriately. That means we must reserve judgment and not rush to conclusions. Behaviors can be understood with patience and compassion, and that requires that we respect the individual’s dignity at all times.

MYTH: Adults with developmental disabilities cannot live independently.

While it is true that some individuals require daily assistance in a setting that provides 24 hour supervision, and others prefer to live with their families, many are completely capable of safely living in their own house or apartment. Those with developmental disabilities long to be as independent as possible, and they have the right to live in a way that fulfills not only their basic need for shelter but also their emotional need to have a place that they can call their home.

MYTH: An individual with a developmental disability cannot be your friend.

Why not? Human beings are far more alike than they are different. We all share the same important qualities in life. People with intellectual challenges have the same common interests and goals. They have the same fervent hopes and dreams. They have the same all consuming need for acceptance, and they have the same human desire for friendship. Becoming friends with a person that has a developmental disability could change both of your lives.

MYTH: Those with developmental disabilities are not employable.

The unemployment rate for people who are diagnosed with a developmental disability is 70%. That shocking number is not based on the fact that they cannot work, but rather on the fact that they are not given the opportunity to work. The mistaken belief that these individuals cannot develop vocational skills deprives society of their talents and abilities. Many people with intellectual challenges can perform a wide variety of job tasks when given the chance.

MYTH: Those with developmental disabilities are not “normal”.

There is no such thing as normal. There are now 7 billion human beings on earth, and each one of us is a completely unique individual with our own characteristics and personalities. Every person has their own challenges that they must deal with as well as their own strengths and abilities. Because we are each different in our own way, being considered normal has no meaning. It is far more important to be accepted for who you really are.

MYTH: Those with developmental disabilities do not have the same feelings as other people.

Pain, grief, hope and joy are all experienced by individuals with intellectual challenges. They place the same value on friendship and relationships that we all do. They respond to disappointment, encouragement, rejection and acceptance. They have the same intense desire to be needed and appreciated. But most importantly, like any other person, they need love.

MYTH: People with developmental disabilities are not equals.

Of all the myths that are believed about people with intellectual challenges this lie is the most damaging. It is a cruel and heartbreaking misrepresentation that is disrespectful and does a disservice to both individuals and society alike. In this day and age, it is difficult to comprehend how someone could actually think that having a developmental disability somehow makes a human being’s life less valuable. Our shared humanity makes us all equal - with no exceptions.

Myths about people with developmental disabilities are propagated by those who refuse to accept clear evidence to the contrary. These myths create inaccurate perceptions, which are, by their very nature, negative and damaging. They encourage factual distortions which can lead to unfairness and social injustice. Thankfully, like all myths, they are dispelled with the acceptance of reality. That is why it is crucial to correct the narrow minded thinking that too often prevails regarding people with intellectual challenges. We can only become a truly inclusive and compassionate society by challenging the myths that misrepresent those who want nothing more than to be accepted as equal members of the human family.

Myths about developmental disabilities are incredibly harmful because they can have a devastating impact on the lives of millions of human beings.