The social nature of cognitive disability
The issues associated with cognitive disability are socially generated. The sentiment among many is that persons with mental impairment will make the life of the family unbearable. People wrongly think that children with autism are a big burden to carry. But the life story of Temple Grandin, a scientist who was diagnosed with autism early on as a child, counters this myopic judgment. Consequently, parents need to be dynamic to adjust to their particular situation and employ the most appropriate approach in managing the life situation of a child who needs special care.
The social nature of disability tells us that families are often stigmatized by the challenges of having to care for a child with autism, whose mental aptitude may also be deteriorating. For this reason, there are families who choose to hide a child from the public’s view or away from the real world due to unfounded fear or embarrassment, and to protect the child from the public’s sheer ignorance.
We have to analyze structural imbalances and evaluate the factors that affect the condition of persons with disability. These factors can be both direct and indirect. The interventions from schools and within the family, on one hand, have a direct impact on the person’s quality of life. But it is also equally important to determine the social, economic and cultural environment to which someone with functional impairment is exposed. Institutional policies can have an indirect impact in the experience of the child. Understanding social interactions and cultural practices can affect the way parents and families deal with the issue of disability.
The systems model of disability, an approach that integrates the medical and the social aspect of impairment, intends to apply specific principles that are intended to achieve developmental changes in the situation of a child or adult with a lifelong impairment. Social inclusion will require systemic reengineering. John Bricout suggests that human behavior cannot “adequately be understood simply in terms of cognitive structures.” Social institutions have to deal with needs, expectations, and all the constraints that affect the difficult life situation of someone with mental disability.
The standard of rationality imposed in our societal structures undermines the wellbeing of individuals with development disorder. Impairment will preclude certain people from participating in social processes. For this reason, the government often fails to address their real concerns. For instance, the bills now pending in both chambers of Congress do not reflect the serious form of commitment needed by individuals with development disorder.
The systems model points to the importance of prioritizing the care of the person who has cognitive disability. In terms of resource allocation, the government should devote more funds for special education (SPED) programs. According to a 2011 study conducted by the Asian Institute of Management, “the appropriation for programs for persons with disability accounted for only 0.1 percent of the national budget and only 0.02 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.” The study also adds that “84 percent of poor municipalities have no SPED Centers (primary level) while 91 percent of poor municipalities have no SPED schools (secondary level).”
Bricout notes that “parents enter the medical health care system with the intention of fixing their child, at least to the extent possible.” But over time, he says, parents will also come to realize that it is important to shift the focus on particular measures that will enable children and adults with autism to adapt to their immediate environment. The community, in this regard, has an important role to play. By showing love and respect, people can provide the openness that will enable parents to overcome their fears and confusions.
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Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.