Infantalisation often defined is treating disabled adults like we’re children. But it can include treating disabled children like they’re younger, for example treating disabled teenager like they’re 10 year olds or disabled 10 year olds like they’re toddlers.
Infantalisation can happen, and does happen to most disabled people. But it occurs more in us who are perceived as female, than us who are perceived as male (because infantalisation is also a type of sexism). And it occurs more in people with learning difficulties than other disabilities. Adults, and teenagers, with learning difficulties are often given a “mental age” or told that they are really children trapped in adults bodies to justify others’ infantalisation.
Many people associate infanlisation with “baby talk”. But there are many types of infantalisation:
Assuming Disabled People Don’t Experience Sexual Attraction
Of course there are asexual disabled people, but there’s no more asexual disabled people than abled people. If a disabled person enters a relationship with another disabled person then it’s often portrayed by “puppy love” no matter how serious it is. If we enter a relationship with an abled often it’s portrayed as abusive, no matter how healthy the relationship is.
Not Allowing Disabled People To Make Their Own Decisions
I’m a part time wheelchair user because of my utricular dysfunction so in this situation I was visibly disabled. Before I gave up flying, I would have this conversation every time at security when I was about to get searched
Security Guard: How old are you?
I would give them my age which was over 18
Security Guard (addressing my mum): Is it ok we search her?
The security guard was either assuming I was “purer” or “more innocent” and therefore unlikely to have countraban. Or I couldn’t make my own decision about if I want to be searched or not.
People often believe the best thing about being an adult is that you gain the right to make your own decisions. But disabled are often denied this right based on the belief that we’re children trapped in adults bodies. Abled adults even have the right to make “bad” decisions such as smoking, drinking excessively, eating too much “junk” food etc. When disabled people make “bad” decisions, abled treat us like we don’t have this right.
This actually happened to me when I was on work experience at a charity cafe when I was 15. Because it happened 7 years ago, I’m paraphrasing.
Man: So this is an egg and this is a chicken and you drip the chicken in the egg.
He coats the chicken in the egg
Man: And these are breadcrumbs and you cover the chicken in the breadcrumbs
He coats the chicken in the breadcrumbs
Man: And that’s a chiiickkken ggggoooouuuujjjoooon
His whole tone was patronising especially when he said “and that’s a chicken goujon”. I could tell that he expected me to be wowed and amazed like a toddler who had never seen a chicken goujon before. He never let me make one myself.
Many people have heard of manslaining, where a man would explain to someone he perceives as woman in a condescending way. The same thing can happen when an abled explains something in a condescending way to a disabled people (or someone they believe to be disabled).
Countless times after chatting to me for a few minutes, people have realised that I “must have something wrong with me” and proceeded to tone down their vocabulary or over explain concepts despite calling me “smart”. This even includes a topic I know the best, what it’s like to be disabled
It’s fine to explain something to a disabled person, with the exception of the topic ableism and what it’s like to be disabled if you aren’t disabled, but it should only be done when asked and not in a condescending tone.
Not Allowing Disabled People to Participate In Adult Activities
Often disabled adults and teenagers are denied their right to participate in activities people consider adult such as swearing, kissing, having sex, drinking, voting in elections, smoking, watching a 15 or 18 rated movie.
If you abled you can notice this when you turn on the subtitles when watching a TV show or movie. Often swear words are censored.
[Image description: A subtitle that reads “really just don’t give a [ _] about anyone around because you’re]
Not Taking A Disabled Person’s Opinions and Beliefs Seriously
My mother and I have similar political opinions, we are both socialists. However ableds often assume that I copied her political opinions because they believe disabled people aren’t capable of forming their own opinions. The truth is that I remember signs from when I was young that I would grow up to be a socialist (such as going in in a shutdown when I found that business are there to make money and not benefit humanity) and researched various political ideologies listed to the arguments and chose the ideologies that I believe would make the world a better place.
If a disabled person were to change their religion or change their political views, abled would often assume that we were groomed, manipulated, brainwashed or take advantaged of into changing it. It wasn’t because we we persuaded by new arguments or new experiences.
Not Allowing Disabled People to be Independent
Disabled adults and teenagers are often denied independence that they are perfectly capable of. Even if they aren’t capable it is not up to abled people to decide for them what they are or aren’t capable of.
As addressed in my coursework for level 2 advocacy there is a cycle of dependence. Disabled people aren’t often taught the same skills that ableds are, therefore they grow up not having these skills, therefore society looks at disabled people not having these skills and believes they are incapable.
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