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Disabled not stupid
by Nicky De Jong
Issue 5
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Are people with mental disabilities stupid? If you check the word in any encyclopaedia you would definitely say, ‘Yes they are’, but is this a reason to treat them as if they are stupid? Most of the time people only see the disability, unable to look any further to find the person behind the disability.

I’m come from a family with two mentally disabled brothers. The older one has a mild retardation; he is very independent and needs help very rarely. His appearance is just like any other man, although usually people sense that there is something strange about him after observing him. It is then that they begin treating him differently, talking to him like he is a two-year-old or as though he is not able to handle any kind of regular conversation.

What most people don’t understand is how many things my brother knows about certain things and how interesting a conversation with him could be. For example, he is totally into movies, he is a human film library knowing movies, actors and actresses, the year they were filmed and all the small details. Formula One and music from the ‘80s are two more examples that he has slowly become an expert. Unfortunately, people never give him the chance to talk about these things, something that shames me and irritates me, especially when I see people’s reactions when we are out somewhere.

When he’s out shopping and paying, it is something that takes time since he has to carefully check every single note or coin; this is a slow process. The people queuing behind him become anxious and loud, so the next natural step is that my brother gets nervous and becomes slower and slower.

He lives alone and he has a job in a supermarket; a job that makes him proud. He’s so loyal to the business that there is no chance that you could make any comment about that certain shop or the whole chain itself without him taking it personally. In fact, he expects us all to do our shopping from that supermarket for which he’s working. The thing that upsets me most is that there are people who try to take advantage of him and influence his innocent approach to life.

My other brother is a completely different story. He’s severe mentally disabled and at the level of a year or two-year-old kid, plus he will never win a beauty contest, maybe a freak contest.

When people first see him they get a real shock, even people who were warned and claimed that they could deal with him, pull away the first time. When I was around six or seven, he was moved into a special home. There’s not much known about his disability and the only thing doctors said was that he wasn’t going to get old and wouldn’t be able to learn anything. They said that there wasn’t any chance to communicate with him.

Well, he proved them all wrong since next month it’s going to be his 26th birthday, and in those years he learned to walk, he recognizes people and we have found a way to communicate with him.

If you talk to him and give him small tasks, like ‘close the door’ or ‘can you give me a cup’, he is able to do them. The rest of the communication is unique and is mainly symbols or meanings, things that you show him have a different symbolism for him; for example, a toy car means that mother comes to pick him, a glass is his favourite lemonade and a cup stands for coffee.

When he goes out in public his behaviour and appearance makes people nervous. He’s not the silent Bob type, when he’s trying to communicate emotions in his way he can become very noisy. He has many fixations, like ‘digging’, which is digging up his anus, getting it out and then it is party time. There is also automutulation, scratching, biting or hitting himself or if you’re lucky enough to stand near him it’s going to be you. He also has this thing for baby dolls’ heads, in which he keeps pressing the eyes on the doll’s head until they fall out then he’s not interested anymore.

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