Welcome to Illinois

Accepted, or patronised?

Posted in Ability, Attitudes to disability by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on February 6, 2009

“Patrick Thibodeau, who has Down Syndrome, trotted onto the floor Tuesday night for the team’s final home game of the season. When the time came to shoot, he nailed a 3-pointer for the second basket of the game. He hit another at the final buzzer,” reported USA Today earlier this week.

It sounds like a heart-warming tale of a young man overcoming disability with real achievement. Add in the fact that his father, the team’s statistician, “was released from a hospital early – he suffered a stroke two weeks ago – so he could witness the event” and its no wonder the TV news was all over it.

However, this report of the same story from disabilityscoop paints a slightly different picture:

“Patrick Thibodeau attended all the practices and all the games. But until this week, the high school senior with Down syndrome had done little more than fill water bottles and cheer on the sidelines during his high school basketball team’s games.”

As Amy Silverman at Girl in a Party Hat writes:

“I looked hard at that kid with Down syndrome on that Today Show segment about high school basketball and thought, Man, I hate this story. A lot. The kid filled water bottles for what, 9 years, so they gave him a few minutes on the court.”

I had a similar feeling myself when I read this report about a woman with Down’s syndrome being made manager of a coffee shop. Sort of:

“Staff tweaked the job description to suit Natalie, whose schedules now expands to five days a week from three. Instead of doing paperwork, she’ll be in charge of greeting customers and serving tables.”

Not to diminish the achievements of these individuals, but both stories indicate that they are being more than a little patronised.

As Maya at Everything Happens for a reason writes:

“The water bottle and the nine years part made me sad. And of course it made me sad that this kid couldn’t play basketball and score a basket and just be like everyone else, that it had to be some grand, big thing that he got to play in a game and all because he has Down syndrome… I want our kids to be included and recognized, but not as charity cases. I want Leo to fit in because he does, not because someone feels sorry for him.”

Or as Dan Olmsted of Age of Autism writes:

“If the kid can play, let him play, not pick up sweaty towels. Don’t make inclusion on the court or on the field a ‘very special,’ made-for-TV story. Make it typical.”

Or maybe we’re all just too cynical. As Libby at Blessings and Glory writes:

“Charlie and I cheered (and I cried a bit.) I pray that our local high school students will be as accepting of our Charlie.”

And I watched the video myself and when Patrick’s Dad says of his first basket “I knew that was Patrick, especially when it went in. Best feeling you could ever have in your life. Just become a parent and you’ll find out why” you can see he couldn’t be prouder.

And I don’t know because the last thing I want is for G to be patronised but maybe if someone went out of their way to make G welcome and involved him in their team, or their workplace, and made him feel accepted, and gave him a chance to shine – even for a moment – then how could I begrudge that?

But its nice to know that I am not alone in feeling a bit sad about that too.

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  1. Illinois Mom said, on February 7, 2009 at 4:50 am

    I do think stories like these show perceptions changing…slowly changing…but changing none-the-less. One of my new favorite “self-talk words” is “teaching moment.” Everyone in that gym had a chance to be a part of another human being’s shining moment. Even if one person in that crowd realizes the power of opportunity, who knows how many lives can be touched.

    In running a literacy program for kids with DS, I get a lot of comments like “What you’re doing is noble and all, but seriously, can THEY really read.” That’s when I take a deep breath, smile, and mutter “teaching moment,” (to suppress other words that might slip out instead), and share the wonderful success stories of our students.

    Two of our students had their break-throughs this week, one 4-year-old picked up a book he had not seen before and read two words we have been working on. He also looked at a picture of a goat and said “goat, G…O…A…T,” (for a babysitter, of course–they get all the luck.)

    Another 3 1/2 year old nailed the matching activity we have been working on for some time and read her first book–our equivalent of a 3-pointer. I was quite nearly in tears, as this was my chance to be humbled and touched by the power of opportunity.

    It is unfair, horrible, maddening…that society’s expectations are so low, but, hopefully, teaching moments like these will help change pity to awareness; awareness to acceptance; acceptance to greater opportunities.

  2. starrlife said, on February 7, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    I find it patronising and annoying on a macro/media scale but touching on a human scale. I suppose in the end it only matters how he felt and he doesn’t have to represent everyone with DS but I think if he were my child I would definitely have a lot of mixed emotions. It’s like being relegated to a mascot… I think if they had integrated him onto the team, even if he didn’t play very often would have more dignity to it?

  3. rickismom said, on February 8, 2009 at 7:30 am

    Look, the team is NOT going to put him on their reglular lineup, unless he is VERY able. Basketball involves more than shooting hoops– defense stategy, offensive plays…. and if he is not able to do that, and do it as well as the other boys on the team, you can’t expect him to be on the regular lineup.
    I think that any evaluation of the teams action has to be taken with this in mind.
    More on this (hopefully) tomarrow on my blog…..

    • welcometoillinois said, on February 8, 2009 at 7:47 pm

      I appreciate that. My point is that if he isn’t able enough to play on the team they shouldn’t just put him on so everyone can cheer the disabled kid. I don’t know, like I say, I’m probably just too cynical.

  4. starrlife said, on February 8, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    I’ve now seen the vid and he is so happy. Also,he is the designated manager and the other kids are happy to give- I suppose that is what it is all about and all that really matters eh? Society’s expectations shouldn’t exist for any child except on an individual basis perhaps?

  5. Illinois Mom said, on February 9, 2009 at 6:14 am

    Perhaps it is I, as both a Basketball Mom and a Chromosome-enhanced Mom, who is the cynic to think that a story that doesn’t debate whether one of my children should have been born is good news.

    Even more cynicallly….After watching my son come home black and blue and a friend of his break his arm during a game of elementary-school basketball (yes, that’s right 9-10 year olds), it seems like a positive thing to see an example of good sportsmanship…well, at least sportsmanship that doesn’t involve bloodshed and winning at all costs. (School sports programs have become so competitive that only an elite few can or want to play, and even many of those children burn-out or suffer injuries from pushing young bodies too hard. Yet, we all ponder why there’s a youth obesity epidemic.)

    You don’t have to answer, obviously, but I’m curious about others’ thoughts as I try to figure out my own path through Illinois…

    Do you think this situation is different from those of people before us who redefined society’s definitions and expectations? For example, the first women executives who were given “patronizing” jobs or the first of any race who were accused of being hired to fill quotas. Was it the fact that the story was covered in the news or the actual incident that concerns you? What could have been done differently to make it a more positive story? Thanks for all your thoughts, this has been a helpful discussion for me.

    • welcometoillinois said, on February 9, 2009 at 7:50 am

      I do take the point about positive discrimination I and I really do think that his teammates were genuinely pleased to have him on the team. It just makes me a little sad that they only out him on at the end of the last game of the season when the team was in a comfortable winning position. Were there no other opportunities to play him all season? Maybe he had played before and the Today people overlooked that in order to package the news – and in fact if I’m honest a lot of what I don’t like about this story was that it was news at all. I’m glad he got a chance to play and really pleased that his teammates were so happy to play for him. I’m sure this sort of thing happens all the time without becoming a patronising made-for-TV news story.

  6. amysilverman said, on February 9, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    the part that makes me sad — well, one of the parts — is that this was the stuff of a Today show segment. not just TV, but one of the biggest deals in media. or maybe i’m just kidding myself, as the parent of a 5 year old with DS.

  7. […] 10, 2009 by Miriam I’d rather have no praise for Mary than false praise. I’m with Welcome to Illinois and Girl in a Party Hat. This story makes me uncomfortable. After being on the outside of the group […]

  8. […] 12 02 2009 I was thinking about the issue of acceptance or patronisation and mascots on the way into work on the tube this morning and have refined my thoughts a little. My […]


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