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Disability Benefits and the “Adult Baby”

Disability Benefits and the “Adult Baby”

Stanley Thornton is a 30-year-old California man who pretends to be a baby: He sleeps in a (quite large) crib, wears XXL diapers and drinks from a bottle. His roommate Miss Dias, who is not related to him, plays the role of “mother.” Thornton has “infantilism,” says SFGate:

Often infantalism is a sexual fetish, but that’s not the case for Stanley. “I like to play or be treated as a baby to get the love and affection and safeness,” Stanley tells “[National Geographic's Taboo show]. For some people it’s a sexual thing but for most of us we’re doing it to relax. You come home from work and you change into baby mode. You put away your adult stuff and that life gets put on hold.”

Stanley has found a community of fellow infantalists online. When he first started having the urge to act like a baby at age 14, he says that he was really scared and thought his feelings were strange. But now that he has connected with others like himself he’s comfortable with his lifestyle.

A video from the National Geographic show can be seen on YouTube.

According to SFGate, Thornton and his roommate both collect disability payments from the federal government. Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma thinks that Thornton should be able to hold down a job as he’s shown he can work: Since 2000, Thornton has run an online adult baby support group, He also has carpentry skills. On the National Geographic segment, he is shown building baby furniture big enough for an adult. Coburn has asked the Social Security Administration to investigate Thornton’s benefits:

In a letter to Inspector General Patrick O’Carroll, Coburn wrote, “Given that Mr. Thornton is able to determine what is appropriate attire and actions in public, drive himself to complete errands, design and custom make baby furniture to support a 350-pound adult and run an Internet support group, it is possible that he has been improperly collecting disability benefits for a period of time.”

Thornton responded with a letter responding Washington Times saying that:

…he is not capable of working. He said running the website only takes four hours a month, and he said his craftsman skills were overstated by the program, which showed him working on his adult-sized high chair.

“What you saw on camera being drilled was pre-assembled the day before. All I did was drill six holes for the camera,” he said.

On his biography on his website, Thornton says that he worked as a security guard for a year and a half but trauma resulting from childhood abuse and other mental problems left him unable to work. He has been receiving SSI payments for most of the last 10 years.

The term “adult baby” is troubling to me. I’m the mother of an autistic teenager who has lots of challenges in communicating and learning — who can’t talk very well, or read — who won’t be able to live without full-time support. Some people do refer to their adult autistic children with such needs as “toddlers in an adult-size body,” and there are individuals who are severely disabled such that some might say they are “like babies” as far as their not being able to take care of themselves. But I can’t emphasize enough that adults with developmental disabilities, and adults with disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, are NOT “toddlers in adult-size bodies.” 

Many parents and teachers of disabled children have worked hard to teach a child to feed her or himself and to handle their own self-care needs, such as personal hygiene. If anything, we shrink from hearing our children being called something like “adult babies.” With all respects to Thornton and his difficulties (which I know only about from what I’ve read on his website and in the articles cited in this post), I find the association of “adult babies” and disability benefits unsettling as it suggests that those who receive such benefits are indeed “babies” in adult bodies, unable to care for themselves. Quite to the contrary, my son — and many individuals with disabilities — is more than eager to work, but is denied a job, like Elsa Sallard who Starbucks fired rather than making accommodations for her dwarfism.

The Atlantic uses the case of Thornton to talk about disability insurance reform and the need to support individuals with disabilities working so that they have other choices besides becoming “dependent on government checks”:

Social Security disability insurance was designed for the 1950s, when a quarter of the labor force was in manufacturing and employment often meant strenuous labor. In a service and Web economy, thousands of disabled people can still be highly productive in the economy. Autor and Duggan suggest building a universal disability insurance program similar to unemployment insurance, to make disability available to all workers. Shifting disability insurance toward helping people work rather than forcing them to become dependent on the government would both help the economy and save billions of dollars a year.

“Of course, many SSDI recipients are truly incapacitated,” James Ledbetter wrote out in a takedown of SSDI in Slate. But many are employable. We need an insurance system that encourages the disabled to work rather than pay them under the condition that they don’t. It’s time to have this debate.

My son has seven more years of school. Next fall, he moves up to the secondary school program in the county autism center he attends. A huge focus of this program will be on training him for a job. Charlie loves to be busy and to do things. A nightmare for my husband and me would be for him — like some of the autistic adults who’ve graduated from their programs described in the Kennebec Journal — to be sitting at home, unable to use any of the skills his teachers, Jim and I have dedicated our lives to teach him.

One day soon Charlie, and many other autistic children, will be autistic adults; will be adult adults. We need to start creating and supporting opportunities that will enable them to lead the fulfilling, productive and good lives that Charlie and many others can.


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7:39PM PDT on Oct 18, 2011

This is such baloney. Have 2 grandsons that are autistic, adhd, speech and hearing defects, etc etc etc. They see the same doctors, therapists, go to the same school. However, the one who is slightly better off got approved for ssi, while the one who is obviously much worse, has been denied, same exact paperwork and diagnosis. The 3rd child, is at best, ocd. Yet, this idiot qualifies? We need an overhaul of the policy and procedure used in determination of benefits.

3:52PM PDT on Oct 18, 2011

OH PLEASE! the sad part is the government pays him. What a WANKER!

3:15PM PDT on Aug 10, 2011

We can't continue to sustain government spending as it is and especially not expand it. Many who get disability do not deserve it, even if they have been evaluated by the system. In turn, I have seen those who do deserve it fight for 7-9 years before receiving it. It seems unearthing abuse and fraudulent activity of some of these entitlements along with reforming other social entitlements such as welfare to encourage work would be more important and cost effective ways to reduce the bulging budget. Obama has spent more in his first 4 days of term (in inflation adjusted dollars) as Eisenhower and Truman in a decade.

2:44PM PDT on Jul 29, 2011

Is he being investigated? People who truly need disability can't get it be this dummy can. What is wrong with this picture????

11:09AM PDT on Jun 26, 2011

Collecting SS for wanting to be an "adult baby" is truly wicked!!! Write your congress person to get this stopped :-(

10:58AM PDT on Jun 22, 2011

Thius is simply outrageous. Just because a man has the desire to be treated like a baby, he receives a disability check. He does have the ability work at a job. While on the other hand, people who are truly disabled typically are turned down for disability and must get a lawyer to get disability checks.

10:51PM PDT on Jun 11, 2011

this story sickens me!! What a rip off of our tax money. I personally know a couple of people receiving disability who are quite capable of working. They simply lied and because of their race were approved the very first time they applied. My daughter has many, many health problems and is in pain 24-7, yet she has been turned down each time she applies. Fair? I don't think so. Someone needs to check these people out. The Gov. can spend money doing stupid studies on how far birds migrate etc. yet can't hire someone to check on people receiving these benefits. Many of them would be cut and have to pay back what they received or go to prison, which is where they belong!!

9:00PM PDT on Jun 7, 2011

I have Asperger's Syndrome, you can't even tell by looking at me, and I was unemployed for 4 years, and couldn't even get a job interview. I even tried an agency which helps people with disabilities find jobs. I finally got a job and love it... have been there almost a year.

I know a guy who is an 'adult baby', and he is able to work and is an 'adult' when he's not at home...

6:54PM PDT on May 27, 2011

Not only is this guy a little crazy but is a liar on top of that. He says that he has no carpentry skills and the high chair was "pre-made" for him to put together. I saw him go into Home Depot, buy the lumber he needed, take it home, measure it out and nailed it together. If that doesn't show some employable skill then call me an idiot. This is the epitome of fleecing the government. Also, his "mommy" is also receiving benefits and I've yet to figure out her disability. Only thing I see is possibly gross obesity or over-abundance of facial hair. Either way, not reasons to sit at home and change the diapers of a 350 lb "I wanna be a baby" man. No doubt, this is one odd situation.

3:01PM PDT on May 27, 2011

so the AB lifestyle, his PTSD and heart issue are not related?
he gets the income for the heart disablity, or that his tramatization "renders him almost usless to work"

he can run his own workshop and site, so that has nothing to do with that.

ah. well at least I had got mine. I have somethings, not sure what. I feel bad I'm not a prize winning writer or making art to sell so forest critters can have a home and one less shoping center opens up(even if a low income health shelter goes there, so what? aren't foxes deserving? >:P)

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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