Unfortunately, there seems to be a significant amount of confusion surrounding intellectual challenges. That misunderstanding starts with a lack of a clear definition of what constitutes such a disability.
The simplest explanation is that an intellectual challenge is characterized by deficits in both thought and behavior.
Many people assume the condition is present from birth, and that is frequently true. Developmental disabilities are typically diagnosed at an early age or, as in the case of Down syndrome, during pregnancy. But it is also true that other forms of intellectual challenges can occur at any stage of life. People who experience a traumatic brain injury, a stroke, a brain tumor or dementia can all exhibit a decline in their cognitive abilities.
Additionally, a percentage of them have physical issues as well.
These adults have a wide range of skills and abilities. Everything from the capacity to focus for sustained periods of time to overall maturity differs greatly from person to person. They are each unique and, therefore, they should be treated as individuals. Comparisons should be avoided at all costs.
While many aspects of intellectual challenges must be addressed, among the most problematic are behavior issues.
A person with an intellectual challenge may perceive the world in a different way than you, but to them, it is their reality. It is what they experience, which means it is what they react to. Because they are convinced by what they believe, it often serves no purpose to try and change their behavior when we do not understand it. We can do better by attempting to figure out why they are thinking the way they are. If we can enter into their world, we will be more likely to see their perspective which will shed light on their actions.
Of course, some will claim that such investigation requires too much time and effort and is not worth the trouble. But that’s not true. We are talking about people’s lives. Attempting to connect with a person who has an intellectual challenge can make a significant difference for them and us as well.
When we stop and appreciate the value of every person, whether or not there are things about them we do not fully understand, it makes us empathetic and patient. It makes us more tolerant and accepting.
That is important because someday the situation could be reversed. Anyone of us, at any stage of life, could join this segment of the population. In a split second, an accident or a medical emergency could change our lives forever.
If that did happen, how would you want to be treated?
What if people immediately began to think of you differently? What if you were ignored? What if you were disrespected? What if you faced rejection?
This type of reaction is based, in part on the assumption that people with intellectual challenges are vulnerable. However, many confuse vulnerability with some form of weakness or helplessness. Being vulnerable just means they need additional support, assistance, and supervision.
That is why it’s critical to realize that being vulnerable does not diminish a person’s humanity. It does not alter their rights or affect their status as citizens – citizens who deserve dignity and respect.
People with intellectual challenges should not be pitied, they should be accepted. They should not be left out; they should be included. They should not be looked down on, they should be lifted up as equals.
While it is true that a man or woman with an intellectual challenge may not be able to do every single thing you can do, the question is; what difference does it make?
Most of these individuals have a positive outlook on life. They have hopes and dreams. They have thoughts, ideas, and opinions they want to share. They love to laugh. They are kind, considerate, and thoughtful. They put the needs of others ahead of their own. They show compassion. They do their best to fill their lives with meaning as they attempt to make a difference in the world.
Aren’t those the characteristics that matter most in life? Aren’t those the qualities that make us human?