The whole 'special' thing
- 11 Mar 08, 12:08 PM
Okay. I'm disabled, I have a son, and I don't believe in the word 'special' when talking about people with disabilities.
Unfortunately my son attends a school where preferential treatment is frequently dished out to kids with 'special' needs. The word 'special' is plastered all over the minibus. The treatment is ‘special’ because the kids are ‘special’. Sometimes special treatment is used as a means to contain challenging behaviour. Surely that’s wrong?
The school's tendency to, at times, openly favour disabled kids’ efforts over and above the efforts of non-disabled kids causes resentment and confusion among all concerned and also ultimately damages the children with disabilities.
Do they need to be singled out for pity or special treatment? No. Do they need resentment channelled at them when it’s not their actions but those of the teachers that has caused friction? Absolutely not.
And yet these kids are 'allowed' to win sports events and talent contests, all in the spirit of 'inclusion'. And every time this happens, the children without disabilities take note.
It's a policy that has gone so badly wrong that my son actually suggested sending kids with behavioural or learning disabilities to 'special' school. Remember, this is a child with a disabled mother who has behavioural, neurological and physical disabilities. What really threw me was that he not only wanted disabled children out, but made a distinction between certain types of disability. To him, it seemed okay to allow the kids in wheelchairs, the physically disabled, to stay. It was as if they were seen as alright because they didn’t cause the problems the other ‘difficult’ kids caused.
Boy have I had my work cut out trying to deconstruct the school's misguided policy. I explained to him it's the teachers, not the kids with disabilities that are causing the resentment, and that no, absolutely no way is it right to segregate.
We talked about all sorts of scenarios where being disabled and not being disabled just shouldn’t be an issue. Sport seemed to cause the most prolonged debate. He believes any Olympic athletes with disabilities using those ‘super legs’ should be in their own event. I disagreed, explaining that uniting disabled and non-disabled athletes at the Olympics was a really important thing. We did agree that if it could be scientifically proven that the ‘super legs’ give an unfair advantage, perhaps they could be modified to ‘un-super’ them and bring them back to the performance level of the non-disabled athletes. Then we may have an Olympics where no one gets singled out, whether they are outperforming or ‘trying their best’ and winning medals for being brave, which is what seems to be happening at school.
I told him the words special and normal are to be avoided in our discussions about disability. I am trying to encourage him not only to think about what it means to be disabled, but also what it means to live alongside someone who is disabled when you are not. I want to nurture in him a naturally inclusive nature that will mean he doesn’t need to refer to policies or political correctness when faced with somebody portrayed as different from himself. It’s how he reacts as an individual to an individual that is important.
This week is the first week I have picked him up from school using my recently purchased mobility scooter. It's been momentous, liberating, frightening, and now confusing. Going public with my invisible disability and hitting a major disability issue within school all at once has done my head in.
There are many parents who campaign to have a choice between their local primary and provision for children with disabilities. Parents who feel they have no choice, who feel their children suffer in ‘mainstream’ schools. I can understand why they campaign. When things aren’t managed well, it can be disastrous for their child. But good, clear, effective management is achievable.
I still believe in inclusion. Just not 'inclusion' as in inclusion with 'special' emphasis. Emphasis that casts a spotlight where it can only put children with disabilities under a glare that causes suffering, misunderstanding and further division. And that's the last thing that should be happening when disabled and non-disabled children are being taught alongside each other.
• Visit The Beauty Offensive