Infantilizing Jacob

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I saw this topic discussed on Twitter the other day and it got me thinking.  Do I infantilize Jake?  Do I infantilize others like Jake? To some extent, yes, I think so.  And I also think it’s wrong.

Infantilization is when you treat someone who isn’t a child the way you would treat a child.  The newer and more chic version of this would be mansplaining.  I think we as a society do this pretty often, and that we do it without meaning to offend, but we’re still guilty.  As soon as we suspect someone lacks our cognitive ability, we start talking baby talk, speaking extra loudly, and my personal pet peeve – calling them “buddy.”  Case in point, that Friends episode where Joey is struggling with French for an audition, so Phoebe tells the director that he’s “special.”  Even though he can’t speak a lick of French, he gets, “Good job, little buddy!”

Two simple rules are:

  1. Always assume competence
  2. Not being able to speak is NOT the same as having nothing to say

In doing some hard thinking about my thinking, it seems to me that I do a bit of this when working with Jake.  In my videos of him, I repeat what he says for two reasons – first to make sure I understood what he meant, but secondly to make sure the listener did too.

I know that when we are at a restaurant and the waitress asks him what he wants for dinner, Beth is quick to ask him again.  Usually it’s just the very same question but in her voice, with a little more eye contact.  There’s little chance for him to process, or summon the courage for his answer.  The need for interaction between child and wait staff is cut off quickly.  He gets a few precious seconds before he’s saved by the switch to child/mother communication.  When he eventually mumbles an answer, if he’s going to speak to her at all, Beth will repeat what he wants in a clear loud voice so the waitress can understand.

It gets hard when Jake asks questions that have complex or abstract answers.  He’s never done well with subtlety.  I find that we have to grossly simplify answers and ideas to foster his understanding. The more I reflect, the more I think we cross the line.

Don’t we all do this with people we don’t think can keep up cognitively? I’m going to try and do better, and ask that you do too.

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