Telling New Stories: Searching for Capacity [PDF]

The Search for Capacity Among People with Severe Handicaps

John O’Brien & Beth Mount


Some stories enhance life; others degrade it. So we must be careful about the stories we tell, about the ways we define ourselves and other people.
–Burton Blatt

Consider these two stories:

  1. Mr. Davis has a mental age of 3 years, 2 months. IQ = 18. Severe impairment of adaptive behavior, severe range of mental retardation. Becomes agitated and out of control. Takes [medicines] for psychosis. Severely limited verbal ability; inability to comprehend abstract concepts. Learns through imitation. Has learned to unlock the Coke machine and restock it, and to crank a power mower and operate it. His family is uncooperative. They break appointments and do not follow through on behavior management plans.
  2. Ed lives with his mother and sister in [housing project]. Ten of his relatives live near by and they visit back and forth frequently. His father spends little time with him, but two of his sisters have been very helpful when there are crises. His family agree that he will live with one or an- other of them for the rest of his life. Ed is at home in his neighborhood. He visits extended family members and neighbors daily. He goes to local stores with his sisters and helps with shopping. He goes to church.
    Ed dresses neatly, is usually friendly, and shakes hands with people when he meets them. He is a very big man, with limited ability to speak. When he gets frustrated and upset he cusses and “talks” to himself in a loud voice. These char- acteristics often frighten other people who do not know him well. He has been excluded from the work activity center because he acts “out of control” there. He has broken some furniture and punched holes in the walls there and scares some of the staff people very much.
    Ed likes people and enjoys visiting in the neighborhood. He loves music, dancing, and sweeping. He likes loading vending machines and operating mechanical equipment. He likes to go shopping. He likes to cook for himself and for other people and can fix several meals on the stove at home. He likes to hang clothes and bring them in off the line. He likes to stack cord wood and help people move furniture. He prefers tasks that require strength and a lot of large muscle movement