This case upsets me on so many levels, and triggers so many hot spots, it is hard to know where to begin. But I think what upsets me most is the continual portrayal of DJ as being like an 18 month old. This is the same argument used in AshleyX to validate her parent’s desire to stunt her growth as their ‘Pillow Angel.’ You live for 35 years and no matter how deprived of a stimulating environment you have been, you are no longer like an 18 month old. You have life experiences that inform you in ways you may not be able to communicate effectively, but are no less life changing.
When I read that DJ was never taught any method of communication, my stomach revolts. Whether or not you believe that DJ successfully used FC, he did from accounts by many respond to his environment in meaningful ways. He could have learned to blink his eyes or point to respond to simple questions. His mother reports he scoots around on his butt at home. He has no wheelchair and cannot walk unaided. So is this an 18 month old or is this an adult with no effective means to stand up and ambulate or move through space?
This is a very tired notion to quantity people’s intelligence by a chronological age that is dependent upon society’s norm of being able to read and write and speak by a certain age.
I met DJ. I cannot say for sure a lot of things about him, but I can say I met an adult man and not an 18 month old child. I met a man who appeared to me to fit into the rythym of an adult conversation on his own accord with the assistance of FC. When we can see DJ as an adult man, it changes everything. ~Susan
3 thoughts on “Assessment of Intelligence:”
Most disturbing to me is that DJ was on his way to achieving the life that our D.D.Council promotes for everyone, although very few achieve it, given too many barriers to mention. Having a partner, living with that partner, making one’s own choices are all part of the ordinary we want to achieve for all. This is a difficult achievement/discussion within the disability community. To think that DJ had come close to making it, and then was struck down so swiftly from outside the disability community by a jury is heart-wrenching. Guardianship and parading DJ before a jury is a horrible way to take away rights as well as dehumanize people.
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This case is about ableism pure and simple and DJ doesn’t fit into this society’s view of intelligence. Unfortunately he may never have the opportunity to prove his intelligence and that is very sad.
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Why are we so quick to believe that DJ was correctly determined to have the capacity of an eighteen month or three year old? What test is there that evaluates intelligence in a severely physically disabled person? The standardized IQ test, which requires the ability to speak and write, was used to measure his intelligence and capacity. Of course he failed, because he cannot speak or write. This is the key point on which the trial based its points and arguments.
My reaction to this case is influenced by a student in my mother’s special education classroom in the 1980’s. Carol was a student severely disabled with Cerebral Palsy, unable to control her limbs or speak. She was cheery and good natured, and the staff all gravitated toward her. They began trying to see if she had any ability to communicate through the use of a simple picture communication board. Carol could enthusiastically nod her head and animate her facial expression in response to questions. As evidence of her intelligence and awareness became clear, the complexity of the communication boards increased. Carol was an eager student and it became obvious that she understood what was going on around her. Her mother was elated; Carol was elated and the staff were elated to find her opinions and thoughts emerging despite her disability. Carol went from being considered unable to do just about anything, to being able to communicate with assistance and support. Her sense of humor was the icing on the cake!
Knowing Carol has altered how I think about disability. I do not find it hard to believe that DJ was helped by Facilitated Communication, nor that he was sought after in lectures and was auditing a 400 level graduate class. I believe that he did go on outings with Anna to museums and concerts and that his intelligence emerged in response to her support and acceptance of him. Through her, he was exposed to the larger outside world which was quite a contrast from being isolated at home.
His mother and brother no doubt thought they were doing the best they could for him in removing his wheelchair from use, which made scooting on the floor his only mode of transport. They clearly loved him, but did not understand the options available to him for self-expression, nor that his routine was boring and limited.
When his brother mentioned DJ to Anna, she was interested in meeting with him. As I understand it, she never charged DJ’s family for the time she spent working with and assisting him. She did blur the lines of professionalism by having a personal relationship as their interest in each other became romantic. It would have been so much better for her, in many ways, if she could have put a barrier of time between the two phases of their relationship.
There are no winners or victors in this case, only losers and tragedy. DJ is back at home with his mother and brother, and has only his head banging (which has required hospitalization) and finger biting to express his anger and frustration. To many familiar with this case, it would not be a surprise if he does not live long post verdict. His enlarging world has been cut out from under him, and he is smart enough to understand that he was humiliated in court and that Anna was vilified for caring for him and allegedly taking advantage of him sexually.
It is ironic that in the early days of DJ’s work with Anna, his mother and brother were enthusiastic and eager for what he was revealing in his typed communication. They seemed to revel in every bit of expression he achieved until his brother read a negative article about FC. From that point, he grew suspicious that he and his mother were not able to elicit the same response from DJ when they sat to facilitate his typing efforts. The methodology was then called into question, rather than the people using the method. Why would a formerly isolated, severely disabled man be inclined to open up to the people who had held him back at home? How could that have been seen as encouraging? To his mother and brother, this discrepancy fueled their doubts about Anna and her influence, rather than crediting DJ with will and preference and determination.
Why is it so hard to imagine that DJ might have the intellectual and emotional capacity of an able bodied person, even though his body is so disabled? Why is it hard to see that he might have been given a chance to come alive with Anna’s assistance? Don’t we all need encouragement and care to achieve our goals and successes? Why should a disabled person be any different? Don’t we shrivel up in the face of hostility and disbelief the way it seems that DJ did with his mother and brother? Is it too painful to face our collective guilt over how someone has been treated, to realize that under that disability is a fine mind, an intelligent brain, a caring and loving heart? Should the fact that a person needs to wear a diaper deter us from considering that they might have sexual desires and abilities?
The prosecution chose to take advantage of the fact that DJ had been determined to have the capacity of an eighteen month old. All of their evidence pointed to this and exploited it, so that Anna became a monstrous predator in the eyes and ears of the jury. FC was not allowed as evidence by the judge in this New Jersey courtrooms, so Anna’s work with him became non-existent. It is not hard to see how the jury reached their conclusion, but it is pitiful. Anna’s sentence is extreme, given the charges; it would be fitting for charges of gang-rape, which this clearly was not.
This case is so complex and difficult to parse. I implore others to withhold judgement and consider that there is so much at play here that it is hard to digest at first glance. Give it some time. Consider the various sides involved. Think about the brilliant Stephen Hawking, who communicates laboriously with his mouth manipulating an instrument to use a keyboard, despite his serious disabilities. Would we disbelieve that he would be incapable of emotional connection because of his limitations? Should we believe that about anyone at all? Shouldn’t our very humanity opt for the benefit of the doubt first, before believing the worst?
And then, ultimately, shouldn’t we question the manner in which DJ’s intelligence was evaluated and determined, even though he would have had had to fail the standard IQ test, because of his inability to speak or write? In just the way that much of the world reacted to the plain face of talented singer Susan Boyle, shouldn’t we fall back on the fact that outer impressions do not tell or reveal all? Aren’t we all worth being considered able in the ways that matter most, unless we are fairly tested by our like bodied peers (and not professionals) and proven otherwise? There wasn’t a single disabled peer on the jury that convicted Anna. That is something to think and worry about. There was no one in the courtroom, other than Anna, who was willing to believe that DJ is a thinking, caring, reasoning individual. That is the greatest tragedy in this case.