Whoa, Baby: A Disability Double Standard you Have to See to Believe

Hello, readers,

To start today’s post, I’d like to introduce a term that may be new to most of you: paraphilic infantilism. If we translate that from medical-speak, paraphilic infantilism bascially means being an adult baby. That’s right–I’m talking about fully grown men and women who do not choose to live as adults. They choose, instead, to live as perpetual infants or toddlers. I’m talking cribs, bottles, baby food, infant and toddler toys, the whole bit. Many of these adult babies even wear and use diapers. “I love the feel of a warm, wet diaper,” a twenty-six-year-old adult baby named Riley, featured on TLC’s My Strange Addiction, said in the half-episode dedicated to her lifestyle. (And by the way, she used to be a he–Riley is transgender).

Another adult baby, Stanley, who was thirty at the time, was recently featured on the new TLC show My Crazy Obsession. I could spend a whole new post delving into what draws television to these bizarre addictions, obsessions, and over-the-top collections. After all, I am a bit of an armchair psychologist. But one, that would be off topic, and as a teacher, I know better than to go off topic. 🙂 Two, it’s more important, I think, that we focus not on why network TV is drawn to these stories, but the fact that it is drawn to them at all.

I know the “Sunday school answer” to why the world is drawn to such situations: the world is fallen, flawed, and fascinated with what the Judeo-Christian tradition–among other traditions–calls sin, overindulgence, self-centeredness, and greed. But Christians are drawn to these situations, too; I know because I used to be one of them. Do we tune in because we want to see if people truly act that bizarre in real life? Because we want to see what the next addiction or obsession is? Or–and this one, you won’t like–because some of us need these stories to validate the increasingly relativist thinking of our world?

Let me explain that last one, and to do so, let me use the example of Stanley. This is where the “double standard” part of the post comes in. We’ve established Stanley is an adult baby, content to spend large portions of his days “playacting,” as he calls it, as a two-year-old. What I didn’t say is, Stanley is also a very skilled man. Adult baby websites that sell adult-size cribs, changing tables, and other such furniture exist. But buying these things online can quickly get expensive. So Stanley builds his own furniture.

Did you catch that? A man whose lifestyle revolves around acting like a baby, can build quality furniture.

If the story ended there, I might be inclined to accept Stanley’s lifestyle. A fairly recent online news story reveals this man had been through “childhood abuse” and “trauma,” so maybe the adult baby thing is his coping mechanism. And Riley, the woman I mentioned earlier, also endured bullying and abuse throughout her/his life for being transgender, among other things. I don’t judge these adults based on lifestyle alone. I believe they are in rough situations, are choosing unhealthy ways to cope, and need gentle, understanding, and intensive psychological and emotional help. What I condemn about the adult baby lifestyle is this:

Stanley can build quality furniture. He could make a very decent living doing so. Yet:

This man receives $800 disability checks every month!

And I’m betting he’s not the only adult baby to draw SSI funds, either. For what? A disability? I. Don’t. Think. So!

“But Chick,” you tell me, “you just said these people need intense psychological help. Doesn’t that mean they’re disabled?”

No.

Why, you ask? A number of reasons:

1. It may be a coping mechanism, but at its core, the adult baby lifestyle is something that is chosen, of the adult’s free will, and enjoyed. I have yet to meet a person with a real disability–physical, cognitive, or yes, psychological, like bipolar disorder, PTSD, or OCD–who enjoyed having it. I certainly don’t enjoy cerebral palsy. I cope, but I’d be the first to admit, if I didn’t have to live with it, I wouldn’t.

2. Let’s look at the definition of “disability,” shall we? I’m partially quoting from Heward, the author of my special education text. A disability is an impairment significant enough to interfere with daily life and/or impede physical, mental, or other skills. (And no, “disability” and “impairment” are not interchangeable). “Impairment” would be something like, poor vision that needs glasses. If you can get glasses and never have another problem living daily life, then needing glasses does not necessarily constitute disability). But I don’t see these adult babies leading impeded lives. They’re able to function as adults, when and if they choose. Their physical, mental, emotional and other skills are not impaired in any way. Psychologically, they may be living unhealthfully, but they don’t exhibit symptoms such as phobias, depression, mania, and so forth–psychological conditions that are truly disruptive to daily life. Therefore, by definition alone, I refuse to say these people have disabilities.

3. If they chose, these adult babies could get help, and perhaps change their lifestyles. I’m not saying they should be forced to do so–it’s a free country. And I don’t know what it’s like to choose this coping mechanism, so I’m not going to say Riley, Stanley, and others could just “get over it, already.” But the key is, the adult baby lifestyle can be changed. Many disabilities can be improved, but they can’t be cured. They can’t be gotten rid of or “gotten over.” They are permanent.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), questioned Stanley’s right to $800 disability funds, based at least in part on the rationale I just gave you. And well he should. Coburn lost the battle; Stanley still receives those checks. But I’m glad he questioned that judgment, because if we allow that kind of capitulation to the adult baby lifestyle, we’re also committing a major double standard.

What do I mean? I’ll put it as plainly as I can. In this country–in this world–some people with disabilities live who cannot function above the level of a two-year-old. They didn’t choose that; they were born with or acquired severe disabilities that resulted in major implications for their lives. But when we see them–the grown man or woman who needs to be fed, dressed, and wiped in the bathroom–we often react with pity. We say, “Thank God that isn’t me!” Or we respond with resentment: “Why are my tax dollars going to care for people who contribute nothing to society?” For heaven’s sakes, we even choose to abort babies, if we know they’ll be born with those kinds of disabilities ahead of time!

But when we see an adult baby, who chooses to live as if he or she cannot function? Who wants to be fed, dressed, and tucked in? Who–Lord help us all–WANTS to urinate and defecate in his or her pants? We say, “That’s their choice”, or “They’re only doing it because they were bullied; it’s not all their fault.” We even–I need an antacid–SAY THEY SHOULD BE GIVEN MONEY TO KEEP UP THE LIFESTYLE.

Again, I don’t condemn the lifestyle itself, if for no other reason than I don’t know what it’s like to walk in those shoes. But such federally mandated, widely accepted capitulation? Glorification of that choice on television, when people with real disabilities have to live like that (they didn’t get to choose?) When people with real disabilities are unjustly stigmatized, punished, or shuttled out of “normal society” because we don’t want to cope with what they need, want, or think?

That, my friends, needs to go the way of dirty diapers.

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