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  • Neil Mahoney

Ranges of Disabilities

Everybody is different. Whether you can see it or not, we are all beautiful and beautifully flawed. We all need help at some points in our lives. My boys just happen to need more help. Whether it’s having to feed my sons or your daughter needing therapy because she has dyslexia, we all need help every day. It just looks different for each of us. I even sometimes make a mistake thinking the disabled community has one set of needs, but it’s not the case.


There are metrics to evaluate the type of help your special needs family member will need.


Activities of Daily Living (ADL) v Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL) 1


There are two types of tests used to measure the ability to take care of themselves – activities of daily living (ADL) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADL). ADL is a gauge of how well a person can physically take care of themselves and include the following:


  • Ambulating – can they move from one area to another independently?

  • Feeding – do they have the ability to feed themselves?

  • Dressing – can they dress without needing help?

  • Hygiene – can they keep up with bathing, grooming, and oral hygiene?

  • Transferring – can they move their body from one position to another?


ADLs also include the ability to go to the bathroom without needing help. An IADL measures cognitive impairment that is equally important in accessing a person’s ability to think abstractly and complete tasks such as paying bills, cleaning, taking medications on schedule, preparing meals, and driving.


High-Functioning v Low-Functioning


These outdated labels are detrimental to children and adults with special needs. There’s a stigma with these labels, and they don’t reveal anything about what the person is capable of doing. It can often harm an individual’s ability to grow and flourish. If you are considered low-functioning, would others be less likely to involve a disabled person in activities where they may excel? Or high-functioning may disregard the struggles the person may have. Labels can be misleading and harmful to anyone, especially to those with special needs.


Ability and Promise


ADLs and IADLs are measurements of functioning, not measurements of ability and promise. Your child may not be able to brush their teeth, but that doesn’t mean they can’t shine in other areas of their life. That’s why everyone should be seen as an individual with their own limitations and limitless potential.


We are all different and bring something unique to the world. Too often, we only see a person’s disability, and we miss out on the glorious, fun, funny, thoughtful, spiritual, and hopeful people they are. Look past the physical aspects of a disability and let yourself wonder what a person can do.


1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470404/

2 https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/04/the-language-of-autism/476223/

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