Friday, July 16, 2010

Having one of 'those children'...

Last weekend, a person employed for her loud and impulsive voice made some statements on Australian television about mainstreaming children with special needs. The comments were, unsurprisingly, reactionary and deeply offensive to people who have, or care about, SN kids.

A campaign started immediately, to get an apology from the woman who made the comments. It was run, astonishingly well, by parents and within a couple of days, there were 1700+ friends on a FB page. They got a half-arsed Twitter-pology from the woman, blaming them for 'misunderstanding'. Minor setback. They received an apology from the television network involved. Huge win. They are still working on getting a on-air apology from the woman herself.

All in all, a nice resolution to a serious storm in an important teacup.

The real revelation for me, though, comes in the woman (known as a social commentator)'s use of phrases like 'those children'. 'Those children' need to stop taking valuable teaching time and resources away from their normal classmates. 'Those children' need to be looked after somewhere else. Mainstream school is not the place for 'those children'.

You hear it again and again. And a surprising number of people are in total agreement. Even more would agree, but know it's not PC to say it out loud.

But here's the thing. I have one of 'those children'.

He, as you know if you are a regular reader, has a lot going for him. He  has a ton of capability and a very high IQ. He keeps himself to himself at school, and has never thought to tease, bully or rely on any kind of violence to resolve conflict. He knows more about some things (animals, in his case) than most of us could dream about, and he has the passion, drive and unique turn of thought to turn that knowledge into something truly world changing.

Sounds like the perfect kid, right? The sort of kid any teacher, child, school community would welcome.

Like any parent, I dream about his future, and I want the best for him. I try to make the best decisions on his behalf in regard to his education, his health, his emotional and social development. Like any parent, I believe my son has the right to be exactly what he wants to be - right now and in the future.

But, he's one of 'those children'.

So, I make decisions for him based on his individual needs. Here's what I know.

  • he struggles in school, despite his intelligence
  • he requires a lot of one-to-one attention when it comes to academics, not because he is stupid, but because, to him, the school environment is not conducive to concentration.
  • he needs adults with compassion, understanding and experience around him to decode the subtleties of the world with him.

These are not qualities that gain him entry to 'special school'. His IQ and language scores are way above the cut off for those settings, and there are hundreds, if not thousands of children in this State alone waiting for access to disability/autism specific school settings. Children with more profound and debilitating clinical presentations than my son.

It may surprise people who do not have children with special needs to learn the following:

  1. There are more of 'those children' than there are dedicated educational placements for them.
  2. 'Those children' range in ability, temperament, socio-economic status, skill, race (just like 'the other kids')
  3. Many of 'those children' have every chance of being fully fledged, employed, tax paying, world changing members of society, with the right support. 
  4. Peer modeling, trained and skilled educators and inclusive curricula go some way to providing that support.
  5. Children, unlike adults, acknowledge difference and in satisfying their curiosity about their differently abled peers are much more likely to live a life free of ignorant discrimination. Mainstreaming isn't just for 'those kids', it's for the rest of us as well.

To live a life where we constantly work toward reinforcing the success of those with the least impediments to that success, is to deal on a level of such shallowness that, to me, it's hardly worth trying. Where's the challenge in ensuring the inheritors of the universe actually take control of the moon and the stars? Can we really be proud, as a society, when the children of the able-bodied, wealthy and successful  themselves go on to be... able-bodied, wealthy and successful?

Before I had my son, I thought about all the great things that a child of two relatively sane, stable, capable and happy individuals could achieve. I planned for those outcomes, making career decisions and moving house to make those things possible. As all parents do, to the best of their ability.

Even though my son has a disability, I have not, and will not, alter my strategy. The journey is unique, but the destination (his future as an adult) is the same as any one else's.

I didn't expect to have one of 'those children' but now that I've got him, I'm sure as hell not letting him loose to wolves like the brassy 'social commentators' on network TV shows. I do not work as hard as I do, on a daily basis, to provide you with an easy meal.

All power to the parents behind the challenge to this TV show, and all the other media outlets who let this stuff go through to the keeper.

And to the people who make their careers by punching at easy targets... I truly hope a shallow life is enough.


Ro said...

I missed this woman's piffle but she's, unfortunately, voicing what a lot of those type of people think.
It's bloody scary!

Simon said...

Id like to raise the issue of language.
I hate the word 'disability', or rather its use as a label.I always have.
Within a community such as this where we, our children, or loved ones exhibit different abilities or sensitivities or behaviours from the mainstream in definable terms, it is essential to raise awareness about the ways in which we are different - to enable understanding and help facilitate integration; but isn't it more important to emphasize the ways in which we are the same? Thus debunking arguments such as Ms MacSween's. Allowing the useage of the existing limiting terminology allows her to use such phrases as "those children".
Let the WHO define 'disability' or 'disabled' as it will, to me it's simply exchanging buzzwords: 'disabled' is the new 'handicapped'.

Anonymous said...

Well said Valerie :)

Thank you :D

Fi said...

If only Pru could read this!

Shelley said...

I totally agree - a beautifully written post.

Simon - I sort of see your point - and absolutely language is very important - but terms like disAbility (used in people first terms) are useful. Sure my daughter is more the same that she is 'different' but I have twins - one typical and the other with a disability. It isn't in her interests to shy away from her 'special needs'.