I enjoy watching Dr. Phil. Not every episode, mind you. Some of them, like the ones about paternity tests and the ones where people just scream at each other for an hour, I can live without. I don’t agree with everything Dr. Phil says, either. But he does cover some interesting topics, so I’ll tune in a few times a week. My favorite topics tend to revolve around parenting, mental health issues, and physical health issues, whether that’s obesity or anorexia/bulimia. Those aren’t the only health issues covered, but they are frequent.
Dr. Phil also likes to feature “moochers” on his show. I’ll define this population as twenty-somethings, or in some cases thirty-somethings, who still live with their parents and are under- or unemployed. But I’m not going to leave the definition there.
Why? That’s right–it’s because far too many people with disabilities are part of that definition. In fact, if I left that definition as was, I’d be downright depressed because that would make me a moocher. Hear this clearly: in most cases, people with disabilities are not moochers. If the disability is legitimate, if the person is trying or has tried several avenues to better his or her situation, or if living with parents is the best option (as opposed to in a dangerous neighborhood or inappropriate group setting) then that person is not a moocher. I’ll add to the definition now:
A moocher is an adult, living with parents, under- or unemployed, who:
- Does not care about his/her situation
- Has no desire to change it
- Takes advantage of parents’ love and generosity by being disrespectful or breaking house rules
- Uses money only to spoil self or engages in risky behavior using what earnings exist (this is the guy who drinks his paycheck and then totals the family car)
- Is irresponsible with self (does not groom self, does not clean room, leaves horrific messes in room, dresses sloppily)
- If employed: uses money irresponsibly or does not set aside money to better self and situation
Somewhat long definition, I know, but I’m using examples I’ve seen. However, I do want to talk today about PWDs and the moocher syndrome, because I see two things happening in regards to this subject:
1. People with disabilities are being encouraged to use the disability as an excuse not to do anything
2. People with disabilities have dreams or are given goals by an aide, a vocational rehab agency, whatever–but then not helped to fulfill them or expected to do so. Therefore, the most hardworking PWD in the world can be made to feel like a moocher. Some insensitive clods even say that, behind their backs or to their faces, and it just worsens the whole situation.
So, what can and should we do about these problems? I’ll address them in order.
1. My observance of this issue came from last Friday’s episode of Dr. Phil. Dr. Phil’s guest that day was a moocher named Christopher. Christopher is diabetic, and his parents blamed his lack of respect, self-care, and motivation on the diabetes. But as Dr. Phil said, diabetes is not a disability, it is a medical condition that properly managed doesn’t have to reduce quality of life, especially for a young person.
But what if the person really has a disability? Is he or she doomed to live with parents forever and never have any significant experiences or relationships outside the family? Yes–IF we keep doing what we’re doing when it comes to PWDs–the segregation, the negative prophecies, the obscene amounts of therapy and meds, and other assorted crap. But NOT if we treat them as whole people and expect them to do what they are capable of doing. Yes, in some cases, that may be very little. And a PWD who lives with family out of need or want is neither a moocher nor a failure. The problem comes in when we let the disability become the excuse, or when we make dreams without goals. Which brings me to:
2. Dr.Phil defines a dream vs. a goal this way. A dream has no timeline. It’s just kind of up in the air. A goal has a timeline and realistic steps. A goal also has a support system, and this is vital to PWDs. I think we have way too many PWDs who feel like moochers in our world today, and it’s partially because we allow them to dream, but we don’t respect their goals (the goals they want, not the ones set for them to benefit “the system.”) So when a PWD says, “I want to live on my own,” for example, let’s take that from “castle in the air” dream status and make it a goal. Say to the person, “Okay, I will help you make that happen. We are gonna do 1, 2, 3, and 4, and our goal will be to get you into an apartment in 6 months.” And if the goal needs tweaking? Don’t do what others are tempted to do–don’t just shelve it and say, “You weren’t ready.” Keep trying! And furthermore, keep trying until you get there!
PWDs are too often accused of being moochers–which connotes sloppy and disrespectful. But they rarely, rarely are. They want to be contributors–so let’s make that happen.