There are terms, alternatives to ‘disabled’, like ‘differently abled’ and, my personal favourite (care of Glee‘s Sue Sylvester), ‘handycapable’. It’s all very PC. But with political correctness comes a grain of truth: our words have power, and our words weave our reality.

“I’m having a bad day,” cements as fact that you are and will continue to have a bad day. “It’s been a bad day,” on the other hand, acknowledges what’s been going on, but allows for the possibility of change, allows for the rest of it to be a different kind of day. So it is with ‘disabled’. It presumes lack: lack of ability, lack of intelligence, even lack of hope. With the bar set so low, you wouldn’t hold out for a person to ever soar over it, would you? “We believe that we should presume intelligence,” one of Gabriel’s teachers said the other day. It made me realize how I can tend to take the path of least resistance, to not presume ability as a way of getting through the day with minimal opposition.

I know better, but I haven’t placed the kind of expectations on him that I would on a neurotypical peer. In fact I silently judge friends and family members who don’t make their kids help around the house (sorry) but here I am: kettle, meet pot, we’re both black. The other day, Gabriel emptied the dishwasher.

At school Gabriel’s goals include Life Skills. In the past he was taught how to make rice in the steamer (which he does at home). He was taught how to load the dishwasher, though I had no idea until we were at Sean’s parents’ house one day and Gabriel rose from the table, and took his dishes into the kitchen where we heard the sound of the dishwasher door open and close. Public school had given him a useful skill but neglected to inform us (lest we actually generalize the behaviour to the home environment). To be fair, we aren’t always consistent in prompting him to do these things. Now, in the new alternative learning centre his duty is to empty the dishwasher. And they actually communicated that to us. So we tried it out at home: he didn’t love it, but he did the job. And we reinforced it with a trip to Value Village for videos. Huzzah!

He can also wash and dry his clothes (which he does when I take the time to include him in Saturday’s laundry routine). He puts them away too. But he doesn’t fold them because I haven’t tried asking him to. Until today. The results were not, by this Virgo control-freak’s standards, ideal. But you know what? The kid folded his own goddamn clothes. How about that? He’s abled—maybe not perfectly, but abled nonetheless. Let’s see what else I can come up with to off-load…

Gabriel's first attempt at folding laundry
Gabriel’s first attempt at folding laundry

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