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Karin Mitchell's books on Goodreads
Between Families Between Families
reviews: 5
ratings: 8 (avg rating 4.75)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

retardates

Remember this post where I talked about the word retarded? Well, I've been reading "The man Who Mistook his wife for a hat" which was first published in 1970, so keep that in mind. The book is about different brain malfunctions and hyper functions and all kinds of interesting stuff. A better, more updated version if you're into this kind of thing (and I really, really am,) is Phantoms in the Brain. Anyway, toward the end of the book he's talking about his work with "retardates." Yup you read that right. Re-tard-ates.

So the word is off-putting for sure. But aside from that, there's also a general tone of superiority in the section that almost gives you the impression the author thinks of people with mental retardation as being subhuman. Like a different species or something. And then he gets into how cuddly they are.

So he starts the section off with stellar words like "retardate" and "idiot" and then gets into how childlike the "mind of the simpleton" can be. But over the course of the section titled "The Mind of the Simpleton," the author seems more and more focused on identifying and drawing out the abilities of these people who are in a sense trapped by their own uniqueness. By the end of the section he's "communed" with a pair of twins who delight in coming up with lengthy prime numbers and has helped them progress to 22 digit prime numbers. He's helped a man who cannot communicate verbally, develop his talent for drawing. And you start to think maybe he's not so superior after all.

And I wonder if we all feel this way to some degree. If you've worked with people with limited abilities in some areas of their life, I think its likely you'll have felt exhilarated to discover hidden talents and successes and yet haven't felt on the same level as the person you've worked with. Its akin to when someone tells you bad news. No matter what the news, some part of our minds says, "that isn't me/that won't happen to me. I'm different." Better, different, separate, stronger, smarter, whatever.

Maybe that's why almost any description of mental retardation comes across as condescending. We all think, "that isn't me. That would never happen to me," and so it comes across as an us/them description. Every time.

On paper, logically, rationally, I think "we're all people. We're all equal. I'm no better than you or anyone else." But internally, emotionally, part of me always thinks "That isn't me. I'm better. It won't happen." Not consciously exactly, just somewhere hanging out is a separateness. But maybe I'm secretly an elitist. What about you?

In other news my retardate dog has been having diahrea and eating his own shit lately. Yeah, it sucks. Its a dog's instinct to "clean it up" but that doesn't really work out well. Fuckin gross.

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