There was a call put out by Dave at Chewing The Fat a few months to blog about disabilities and sexuality in honor of Valentine's day. This is my contribution:
There was a kid lived in our neighborhood whose name was Sidney. Not Sid, Siddo or any of the silly nicknames Dublin kids give each other: He was Sidney.
Sidney didn't have a nickname because Sidney had an intellectual disability. I guess the lack of nickname -incidental and unintentional as it might have been- was just another way for us kids to mark his difference. Or maybe it was his mother's attempt to preserve his dignity. I don't know. I just know he was the only kid -certainly the only boy- around our neighborhood who was called by his proper, full name.
I didn't see much of Sidney growing up. He didn't live right in our neighborhood, but next to it. He attended different schools than we did. My friend N. knew him slightly, having attended some kind of summer program with him once. He sometimes used to come by on his bike when we girls were playing kickball in the lane. He would ride nearby, apparently craving our company, but if we tried to talk to him or invite him to play with us, he turned his bike and rode away.
Years passed and we girls grew older and more womanly -especially me, who was cursed with a 40's pin-up bod at 14 (that didn't last, unfortunately). When I was maybe 17, I ran into Sidney again one day when I was walking through his neighborhood with my trusty German Shepherd. The guy had grown. He was about 6'3" and 200lbs. He recognized me and fell into step beside me, staring so hard at my breasts, I am amazed he didn't walk into traffic. I don't remember the conversation, except it was very awkward, Sidney kept trying to clumsily turn the subject to my underclothes, and I kept the confused dog firmly between us. I want to stress that despite the guy's size (I am 5'3"), I never felt threatened or intimidated by him, just very uncomfortable at his subject choices.
I decided several weeks ago to write about this, and I have tried to honestly think back and remember my thoughts and feelings at the time. I realized during that conversation that an intellectual disability will not diminish one's natural wants, feelings and desires. I understood then that Sidney's disability posed a huge hindrance to the boy/girl interaction and communication that goes on: the flirting, Significant Looks, wordplay, smiles and all those little verbal and non-verbal communications were not something about which Sidney would ever have a clue. He would never have the banter and easy charm of the nicknamed kids. And I could feel his desperate need and loneliness, although it scared me at the time.
Many years have passed since that encounter and I am now the mother of a boy (and a girl) with special needs. Age and motherhood have given me a lot of insights now that I didn't have at 17 (although I don't think my 17yo self was completely without insight). I know NOW that a lot of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities do not have a lot of the "in-built" functions that we normies take for granted. They do not inherently understand how to tell or respond to a joke or how to initiate interaction with peers. My own son at 3yo was non-verbal, yet he craved the attention of other kids. His way of getting that attention was to run up to them in the playground and body-slam them. Needless to say, this did not usually have the desired effect. It took some work to change this behavior.
It occurred to me that like Joe in the playground, Sidney was long-ago employing similar sledgehammer tactics to a kid-glove problem. Because he had never been taught differently. And trust me, these skills CAN be taught.
It was true in Ireland back then, and it is probably true through most of the world now, that kids with special needs are not taught how to deal with their sexual feelings. They are probably taught about what is appropriate behavior in public. Other than that, they are left to hide their needs and shame behind closed doors. And education is such an easy solution. I don't mean education about the mechanics or consequences. Not gruesome pictures of venereal disease. I mean education about the social and emotional aspects of interpersonal relations. And safe situations in which to socialize.
I have been thinking a lot about this. In my limited experience, the people I have known who can love -I mean really flat-out, unrestrained, completely and totally LOVE -without conditions or complications- are people with intellectual disabilities. To deny education about how to apply that love denies not only the potential giver, but also those who could be receiving it. Because many disabled people, without knowledge and learned skills, will chose not to risk the interaction at all, not risk rejection or ridicule, but will instead turn their figurative bike and ride away.
To huge potential losses on both sides.