I am talking about the presumption of competence. Not how the lack of it affects me but how I feel, and how I changed, just because I was assumed to be competent.
Maybe I should say that sometimes, in some places, I still need to prove myself. But this post is about the positive effects on me and on my relationship to the world, to other people and to myself simply because I am respected and seen as a whole, and complex, human being.
By presuming competence I don’t mean assigning me superpowers and overseeing my difficulties and flaws. It means allowing me to be myself, giving me the supports I need, not denying that I will not be able to do certain things, and not trying to “fix” me to fit an arbitrary, designed by a majority, idealistic “normal”.
I read a small blurb by a friend about her autistic daughter. She mentioned that some people were impressed that the girl was “like a different child”, meaning that she was happier/more engaged/learning more. But the difference was that she no longer had the “fix treatments” prescribed by “autism specialists”. She was happy being herself, allowed to be who she is, and therefore free to try new things, her own way. And she was proving that this approach is a much better one!
Like this little girl, when I was young and was allowed to be myself, and was given some tools to show what I knew, I was able to like myself just as I was then. I saw myself as a valuable person, not a “tragic disaster that fell upon my poor, suffering parents”. And I learned more because I was seen as someone who could retain and share information, like a child who was learning. Being developmentally disabled means that it took me a while to learn certain things. But the presumption of competence took care of it. I was allowed to learn on my own time. And I did.
It has never been an easy, straight path. But self-esteem is important if we want to know who we are and what we are capable of.
When my parents listened to me and brought me home from a luxury type institution, disguised as a “children’s center”, they assumed I understood what was productive for my life, and what was damaging. The abusive and lonely life I was living changed.
When a friend refused to accept other people’s definition of me, and decided to let me be myself and show what I could do, I was able to type what I had been thinking for a long time. This is one reason why I am here today.
When I write articles, it is because some people who have seen and interacted with me, who have seen my very uncooperative body in action and know my many needs, they also presumed my competence and understood that I have a lot to say and some of it might be important to many other people.
I do not pretend I am not very disabled. I am. But accepting that, and allowing me to say when I cannot do things is also presuming my competence. It is assuming that I have a good understanding of who I am. A friend explains it well here. This understanding allows me to exercise my self-determination, something all adults should have the right to do.
When I type words, and articles, I expose myself to criticism and even hate. Some people in my life have a gut reaction to “protect” and “shield” me. They would prefer that I didn’t say certain things, or that I didn’t read the vile comments. That would be presuming that I will fall apart. Maybe I will but I am glad they don’t make these decisions for me. I grow up as a result of the assumption of my competence.
The healthy increase in self-esteem.
The chance to learn what is age appropriate at any given time.
The responsibility that comes with taking risks.
The opportunity, or need, to take those risks.
The right to fail, or to even refuse to try, when we know we cannot do something.
The right to know who we are and to be trusted on that.
These are some basic things that most people experience naturally but that is not a given when one moves, looks and communicates like I do.
The presumption of competence gives me the rights, risks and opportunities I have been denied just because I am disabled.
Presumption of competence is my rights restored.
The right to try.
The right to choose.
The right to prove I can.
The right to fail.
The right to be an integral part of humanity.
I would not be here if I were not assumed to be competent.
I am here, I am whole, I am a human being, in all my complexities.
Presumption of competence gave me the authority to write this, about myself.
It gave me what we all should have, no questions asked: equal opportunity, at least in the eyes of the ones who “get it”.
And because my self-esteem, my self-image and my self-knowledge grow each day, I can keep showing the naysayers that I am here and I am not alone.