Friday, May 7, 2010

Why do we not prepare a bit more for stuff like this?

When I was a kid, I remember an awful lot of school time being given over to preparations for a variety of life outcomes. There were mothercraft classes (lots of montages made from pictures cut out of the Australian Women's Weekly), sex education classes (very strange films about ovulation featuring Tinkerbell) religious classes (in a state school, always stuck in my craw) and the odd chat about politics (in National Party Queensland, always funny).

But no-one, ever, talked about disability.

Perhaps where I grew up was particularly backward. I hear the sniggers from all the Australians. Let me rephrase. Where I grew up was particularly backward. But I'm thinking there were still people with disabilities there.

I don't recall any kids with disabilities at my schools... And I went to big, outer suburban schools. You'd think there would be a few different kids among the 2100 kids in my high school in the year I finished.

Don't get me wrong, there were a couple of kids who knew everything about grasshoppers or dinosaurs. There were kids who wore their pants really high, or who had odd bathing habits or who were spectacularly brilliant at something obscure. But I do not remember wheelchairs, stimmy kids, obvious chromosomal issues...

No wonder this generation of parents is so flummoxed by the acceleration in stuff like autism rates. We totally did not see it coming.

The first mention of autism I recall was in a book called The October Child. I read it when one of my siblings had to read it for school (you're starting to understand that the kids who knew everything about grasshoppers didn't seem all that odd to me). The book really caught my attention. I would have been ten or eleven, and the idea of a child in their own world was almost romantic.

Apart from that, we had a family friend with a young daughter with a birth injury related disability. I'm guessing now it was CP and mild MR, in the 70s we called it 'spastic' or 'retarded'. Nice, huh? And I remember the phrase 'Sporting Wheelies' and now that I look back on it, I'm thinking it would have been around the International Year of Disabled Persons.

As I grew older I worked with a wonderful actor with CP, and had friends with a beautiful daughter with a disability, who has grown, in my lifetime to be a spectacularly independent successful woman.

It doesn't seem like a lot of preparation, really.

I'm thinking kids need a lot more open discussion about disability and difference.

No matter why (and you know I can rabbit on for quite a while about why), there are a lot more people with disabilities around... present... apparent in everyday life. I haven't heard it yet in relation to my boy, but I seriously dread the day someone tries to call him 'retarded'. I've been around when kids have asked him why he was weird. I've watched children and adults band together to hold him at a distance, as though if they get too close they might catch autism. I see there are kids who are naturally cruel, and who (probably without realising it) separate out the herd and toy with the ones they perceive as weak.

There are some kids who just 'get it' too. Kids who read each person as an individual, and work out how to get through in their own unique way. Those kids I do not fear for. They will take what life throws at them and make lemonade. Should life send them a 'different' child in their future, they may miss a step or two but they will keep going on life's journey.

The herders and the fearers I really worry about. They may be little now, but they have a long life to live. They may not always have the protection of the crowd to reinforce their perceptions. They may be faced with challenges they never allowed themselves to contemplate. I hope they are not challenged too much, to be honest. Because difference and disability is not a choice, it's a given. It just is.

I think we should be preparing our kids a little better than I was for a life full of difference.

It's a different world to the one I grew up in. Thankfully. I hope Billy benefits from that, as much as his NT peers.


fionacrowls said...

You made some really important points there!
I remember back when I was at school, those children with disabilities or differences were literally "hidden away".
That's why I'm such a loud mouth when it comes to educating people about autism. ;)

Lisa said...

Back-in-the-olden-days along with Mothercraft classes, we had Special Schools. The merely odd were allowed to mainstream, but inclusion wasn't on the agenda.

How do I put a link in a comment? A delightful book I read - The Memory Keeper's Daughter - in part addresses the difficulty in persuading schools in the 1960's to accept that a Down's Syndrome child was worthy of an education.

It's a booky comment today :)

'Herders' is a term used in a favourite book series of mine and Dreamer's.

In Isobelle Carmody's Obernewtyn series, the Herders are the luddite post-apocalyptic religious order, and the theme is of society's fear of mental difference. (How's that for a review of 6 books in 1 sentence?)