The other day, I was catching up with an acquaintance who mentioned to me that she thinks Joe Biden is “losing it.” This was the day after his first evening speech to the nation. I found myself taken aback for a few reasons.
First, it seems quite dangerous to me that people like me, people without a direct relationship to Joe Biden or any medical training of any kind, are deciding if he is senile. It seemed to be a “there but by the grace of God go I” moment, as the person claiming to have assessed his cognitive abilities is only a few years short of his current age. Could it be a projection of what is really going on with them?
Second, I responded to my friend that I didn’t see him that way. In fact, I shared that I was quite impressed with his ability to deliver a speech to the nation given what I know about his disabilities. This is where I connected my own personal experiences with my disabilities to what I see in him. Since 2015, when I acquired my disabilities, I’ve been working to better understand myself as a disabled person, which has required me to learn a lot about disabilities, in general. Trust me when I tell you that our society is not designed for people with disabilities.
One of my disabilities is something called high-functioning, mild aphasia. This means that I can reflect upon my experiences and realize that there are moments in which I can’t find the word or words I’m looking for, or I can find the words but they come out in the incorrect order. As you can probably imagine, I am terribly frustrated in these moments. I will boast that I have learned to be more patient with myself and have developed techniques for successfully navigating these moments, such as owning that I am frustrated and am struggling to think of words. These actions are much better than the often tirade of cuss words and throwing of items (red grapes and papers mostly) that I would do early on when I struggled to have choice over my frustrations. Additionally, in these moments, I can now assess myself to see if I am tired or overly stressed, as I’ve found that my disabilities become even more pronounced when I am tired or stressed.
Here is where I think there might be a connection between myself and Joe Biden. Could it be that when I am 20 or 30 years older, people might decide that my cognitive ability is deteriorating because I sometimes search for words? The very action I sometimes do right now? Currently, the usual response I get from people is that they too have moments where they can’t think of a word. Great, I often think, except I didn’t use to have this struggle. And if Joe Biden’s sometimes searches for words and that makes him “losing it”, does that mean that people think I’m cognitively impaired when I search for words right now? In the end, my worry is that in moments where folks are judging another’s cognitive abilities confirmation bias is at play, in other words, the very reality that we find what we look for.