Technology and Its Usefulness for People With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities #AtoZChallenge

Hi everyone. I am back with my letter T post in the #AtoZChallenge. Today, I want to talk about technological advances and their usefulness (or lack thereof) for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

There exist a myriad of technological devices to presumably help people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Some include alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) devices. While these are not for everyone, some people definitely benefit from them. Some of these technologies require a special device, but there is an increasing number of AAC apps available for conventional smartphones and tablets.

Other technologies are used to help people with more severe intellectual or developmental disabilities have different sensory experiences. For example, there’s a thing called the CRDL (pronounced “cradle”), which can be used by a disabled person along with their caregiver. When the device is touched in various ways, it produces different sounds and if I’m correct even vibrations.

Other pieces of technology merely help a person to relax, such as the InmuRelax, a sort of pillow which produces a soundscape when held in order to calm people during the night. Having used the Inmu a few times, I can say I prefer my music pillow, which is far cheaper.

Then there are of course interactive “pets”. These are not stuffed animals and should not be treated like toys, so people with severe or profound intellectual disabilities are probably not suited to handle them. Rather, they are electronics with some fur around them to make them look like real-life cats or (small) dogs, which people can then stroke or cuddle with gently. These interactive animals are mostly intended for people suffering from early to mid-stage dementia rather than for the intellectually disabled, although I’ve seen them being well handled by more capable intellectually disabled people who realize these are like pets, not toys.

Lastly, there currently is a research project going on with “social robots” in long-term care for people with intellectual disabilities. These robots could be programmed to, for instance, remind clients to take their meds, do certain tasks, or they could even ask them questions. It is kind of intended that the robots would become a “buddy” to the intellectually disabled person. I honestly cringe at the idea. Not the reminders or even if the robot woke me up with a cheery “Good morning, Astrid, what would you like for breakfast?”. I am reminded of a time my psychologist, back in like 2013, asked me whether I was okay with a robot doing my morning routine. When I said “Hell, no!”, she saw this as a sign of dependence. I currently start my day on my own anyway, so whether it’s my vibrating, beeping Apple Watch waking me up or a robot, I don’t care. And as for the reminders, I’ve actually thought about asking my staff to help me learn to use a day scheduling app. However, the cringe-worthy thing for me is the “buddy” part. Yes, I know long-term care needs to be cut, but a robot isn’t going to replace human interaction if you ask me.

Friends and Buddies

This week’s topic for Throwback Thursday is friendship. I was never really good at making friends. I still don’t have any real friends other than my husband. I mean, of course I could consider some of my fellow clients “friends”, but our relationship isn’t as deep as that of normal adult friendships.

In early childhood, I did have one friend. Her name was Kim and we used to make mud castles together. Or anything out of sand and water really. Kim’s last name translates to “peat” and my father used to jokingly call her “Kim Mud” rather than “Kim Peat”.

When I went to the special school for the visually impaired at the age of five, I started in a first grade class despite being of Kindergarten age. All girls in my class were at least a year older than me and they enjoyed “babysitting” me. In exchange, for the next three years, I’d help them with their schoolwork.

By the age of nine, I transferred to a different school for the blind. Though I did have a friend there, I was also an outcast and got heavily bullied.

My best time socially was my one year at the special ed secondary school for the blind. I had one good friend there, but also got along pretty well with everyone else in my class and most kids in my school in general.

All that changed when I entered mainstream high school at the age of thirteen. Within a month, everyone had formed cliques except for me. A few months later, my favorite clique took me under their wing and pretended to be my friends, only to drop me again when they’d had enough of me. I was friendless for the remainder of the six-year program. I didn’t really care. Or maybe I did, but I was determined to show my parents and teachers that I could earn a mainstream high level high school diploma. And I did. Not that I use it for anything now, but oh well.

Another topic mentioned in the Throwback Thursday post title at least is buddies. This reminds me of the autistic student buddy program I was part of during my two months of attending university. This program assigned a psychology student volunteer buddy to an autistic student to help the autistic with planning their coursework or other activities related to their studies. It worked in theory, but the catch was that these buddies were volunteers helping only with certain things for one or two hours a week at most. At the time, you couldn’t get paid support workers for assistance related to college or university studies, as the reasoning was that if you could be a student in college or uni, you should be able to do the planning and related tasks yourself. Needless to say my buddy got overwhelmed within a week. I feel intensely sorry for her.

The reason I mention this, besides it being in the post title, is the fact that I realize I struggle to maintain a distinction between social and professional relationships and, with the buddy, things got even muddier. I mean, friendships are supposed to be reciprocal, while professional relationships are not. For this reason, I am allowed to unload my shit to a professional without needing to listen to theirs. Professionals, however, get paid, while friends don’t. With the buddy, the situation got complicated, in that my fellow students called on my buddy to calm me when I was in a meltdown. That clearly wasn’t her role.

This thing about lack of reciprocity, however, also probably killed off that mainstream high school friendship I pretended to have. I don’t blame myself entirely though: my so-called “friends” also felt obligated to hang out with me out of pity, and that’s never a good reason to be someone’s friend.

Gratitude List (January 17, 2020) #TToT

It’s been forever since I last wrote a gratitude list. This past week has been truly mixed, but I still feel there’s enough I can be thankful for. I’m joining in with #TToT again.

1. Domino’s Pizza. Last week, I went home to my husband for the week-end. When we were in the car, my husband asked me what I wanted to eat for dinner. I said “Pizza” and my husband in turn asked me whether there’s a Domino’s in Zevenaar, the city closest to our home in Lobith. I said there is. However, we’d been taking an alternate route to Lobith, so my husband said we wouldn’t drive through Zevenaar, so did I mind getting pizza elsewhere? Then he started teasing me, saying stuff like “You’re still a bit sick right?” and wouldn’t it be better if we had macaroni with lots of veggies. Eventually though, he did drive to Zevenaar and we had Domino’s pizza. I loved my chicken kebab pizza!

2. The flu being gone. I feel pretty much as well as possible now.

3. Meeting the neighbors. On Sunday, our next door neighbors organized a New Year’s gathering for the people in our street and the surrounding neighborhood. My husband and I are new, so as a kind gesture to me, they had each person in attendance introduce themselves and also describe the appearance of the person next to them. I liked it. The neighbors seem nice. I at first wasn’t too sure how much to disclose about my situation, but eventually did manage to explain some without launching into some type of self-centered and depressing monologue.

4. The soap making plans. I told you about it already on Monday. I’m hoping my husband will be able to bring my supplies tomorrow. He did ask me to think of another activity we can do together in Lobith, since I asked him to bring all my supplies. I after all didn’t feel it’d be a good idea to let him sort through my stuff. Now that I think of it, several ideas come to mind.

5. Ylang Ylang essential oil. I had this in my diffuser on Monday night when I was too hyper to sleep. It’s a lovely scent.

6. Over 8,000 steps on Tuesday. I walked three times. The other days have also been relatively good in the activity department.

7. The peanut butter-chocolate smoothie bowl we made on Wednesday.

8. Chatting to some fellow clients. Like I’ve said before, most people in my home are non-speaking and severely intellectually disabled, but there are some clients in other homes and at day activities who can speak and with whom I can have a normal by non-disabled standards conversation. I had some nice interactions this past week.

9. Lorazepam. Like I said yesterday, I was in a bit of a crisis. Thankfully, the PRN lorazepam I took worked.

10. Getting my Braille display fixed. Some dots had been stuck up for a few weeks. I thought the thing just needed cleaning, so I was hesitant to call the company to get a tech guy to come over. Turned out two cells were broken. I’m so happy the thing is fixed now. I did okay reading with these few dots stuck up, but still, it was a bit annoying.

What have you been thankful for lately?