Working with People with Developmental Disabilities Does Not Make Me a Better Person

May 5, 2012

Occasionally I work as a class assistant to an improv group called Shenanigans.  It's a theater group that holds improvisational classes for kids, teens, and adults with high-functioning autism and other developmental disabilities and is a ton of fun.  Its a simple job-I simply participate in the improv games with the class and help the students stay focused on the activities.  They usually do not need much help at all.  Recently, Shenanigans was featured on a local news station.  The news story reminded me of how when I tell people that I work with those with developmental disabilities (my part-time job also involves working with a young woman who has a developmental disability), that I am often told that I am such a "great" person.

Now I am a great person, but it is not because I choose to work with those who have disabilities.  You can say that I am great, because I have great hair, am caring, creative, kind, or any other of my good qualities, but please, do not say that I am great, because of my jobs.  I work with those who have developmental disabilities, because it is fun and I thoroughly enjoy it.  I would be incredibly bored with a job where I would have to sit at a desk all day-I want a job where I can play and sing!  Yes, I thoroughly enjoy helping people, but ultimately, it is about wanting a job where I can be creative and playful.  These kinds of jobs are also good for me, because since I am enjoying myself, I am not burdened with the kind of stress that can exacerbate my mental and physical illnesses.
I get told that I am a "great" person or that I am "doing a good thing" almost every time I tell someone what I do and this is highly annoying.  It's not because I have low self-esteem and cannot handle a compliment, because I actually love compliments, but because it implies that people with developmental disabilities are so unusual, strange, or deviant that only an extremely good-hearted person would want to work with them.  The truth of the matter is that people with developmental disabilities are just people.  Yes, they have some special needs, but so do I.  So do a lot of people-it's just that their disability is often more noticeable than those who deal with an invisible illness, the way I do.  Just because one's disability is more noticeable than another's should not make working with that person any more special.  
I firmly believe that all people should be willing to work with all types of people.  We should all be willing to play, laugh, cry, learn, and love with any type of person that crosses our path.  We should be able to respect people, because they are people, end of story.  I am not a better person, because I am not afraid of those with developmental disabilities or any other kind of disability-I am simply acting as a human being should act.
People admire me and it puzzles me, because I am doing what I love, which is not a hard thing to do.  To me, it is the person who does what they do not love in order to support their family who is to be admired, for that is a much harder thing to do.  At least it is for me.  When I am not doing what I love, I get intensely stressed out, which affects my mood, my fatigue, and my fibromyalgia.  Because I become so incredibly deregulated, I have no other option than to try to do things that ease my stress load.  I can never work long hours or spend a lot of time on my feet in order to make a lot of money.  I will probably never make a lot of money and if it was a choice between having no job and doing something that would really stress me out, I would have to choose being unemployed.  Stress is a luxury I cannot afford.  I think of people who do thankless jobs and work long hours in order to make sure that their children get a good education and have a brighter future as people to admire.  I'm just having fun and trying to treat people the way I would want to be treated.
It also occurs to me that a lot of people volunteer with animals and I have never heard someone being called a "good" person for that kind of volunteer work.  Why is it that it is considered more acceptable in our society to work with animals than with people?  Why would we rather save animals over people with disabilities?  Now I am not saying that working with those who have disabilities is better than working with animals, but I do wonder why working with animals is more popular.   Why do we, as a people, seem to have more compassion towards animals than to people with disabilities?  Is it because animals are cuter?   Because we secretly still believe that those with disabilities somehow deserve their hard life?  That they are paying for some family sin?
Animals may be cute and may feel good to pet, but I still do not think that that makes them worth more than taking care of our fellow human beings.  Being willing to work and play with those who have disabilities should be a part of being human-just like it is accepted that most people like to work and play with animals. I am not a better person for liking to play with people who happen to have developmental disabilities.  I am just a person who wishes that more people realized the potential for love, creativity, and joy that is within every one of us-disabled or able-bodied/minded.
funny pictures - how bout now?  do u see me now?
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2 comments on “Working with People with Developmental Disabilities Does Not Make Me a Better Person”

  1. I understand where you're coming from, but I do have a few points to make (as usual). First, I think that the reason people say that it is "great" that you work with people with disabilities but don't say that it is "great" for people to work with animals isn't because they think that animals are better than people. I think it's the opposite. They are going out of their way to give appreciation or praise for your doing work that they feel they couldn't do, and that they feel is important. I get this all the time when I tell people that I am a hospice nurse. At least 75% of the time I hear, word for word, "Wow, it takes a special person to do that." That certainly isn't because they think dying people don't deserve love or respect, but because they really feel that way. I never know what to say to that, because I'm coming from the same place as you - I'm doing what I love. I can't imagine a better job than getting to impact someone's life in one of the most important times, and helping them and their families to experience a good death. I DO think it's great that you do what you do, because it's important and because you love it. There are some people who wouldn't be good at it (myself probably included), and special needs populations need passionate loving people working with them. You are an awesome person, for lots of reasons! (Partly because you have put up with my ramblings for over 10 years now.) Thanks for sharing, I always enjoy your blog 🙂

  2. I think the reason so many people compliment your work with the disabled is because they themselves are afraid of the disabled. I'm not saying they believe they will hurt people, or anything like that. I think they are just afraid of what they don't know. And like so many, they'd rather sit in their comfort zone and compliment you than do anything to change it!

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