Every so often a student comes and needs to do an interview and for the most part I like doing them. My only condition is that I am able to post the questions and answers on my blog, and I’ve yet to have anyone object to that. So I recently got one about prejudices against students with disabilities. I have written about these before, but maybe not quite this explicitly, so this gives me a chance to think about prejudice, discrimination and students with disabilities.
Thank you so much again for taking the time to sit down and answer these questions, and it would actually mean a lot to me if they were posted on your blog.
1. What are the challenges and difficulties that you experience and encounter when parenting children with mental disabilities?
Hmm…this is actually a harder question for me, because I don’t think of my oldest as having a mental disability as much as a behavioral disability with mental issues, namely as it relates to autism. But that actually highlights the most pervasive problem which is the stigma attached to mental disabilities in general. It doesn’t matter what term is used, sooner or later it will be used in a pejorative way. “moron,” “idiot” and “imbecile” used to be clinical terms!
The challenges vary depending on the severity and pervasiveness of the disability. It would be difficult to list all difficulties, whether it be accessibility issues to having to endure the abuses of a society that devalues people with disabilities to the day-to-day challenges of trying to do “normal” things that most people take for granted, like tying shoes or riding a bike.
2. What are the struggles, if any, that a child with a disability experiences on a daily basis?
The struggles that children with disabilities encounter on a daily basis varies of course, depending on what the disability is. Some universal issues might deal with self-advocacy, where the person may need extra assistance or an accommodation. If they assert themselves by asking for it, they are often labeled as a trouble maker or censored for asking for special treatment. So many people often suffer with their disabilities in relative silence. This is assuming the person even has the skills to advocate. Communication is one of the most fundamental skills a person can have, and yet most disabilities have some sort of impact on communication either directly or indirectly. Disabilities also have social consequences when it comes to making friends, being accepted and just being able to socialize in a way that others take for granted.
3. Have you ever prevented any prejudices from occurring against children with special needs?
Oh I wish I could! The best I can do is to educate others about students with disabilities and point out that they are people, too. They have things they like and dislike and may express their feelings in different ways. And deep down, I think most people *want* to be seen as compassionate and caring people. I think if one sees that as a basic truth “all people would like to be seen as compassionate and caring” then giving people a chance to express that can help against mistreatment and abuse. Prejudice is basically a symptom of intellectual laziness, so the task is to get people to think a bit deeper about whom they are judging against. Not being prejudice requires a great deal of self reflection especially when it is deeply rooted in our own experiences and culture. The biggest challenge for me and other advocates, is being prejudice against those whose primary disability is ignorance! I would rather educate than have to confront.
4. If children do experience some sort of injustice against them, how do they usually react? Are they greatly affected by it?
A lot of children who suffer injustices tend to suffer in silence. Sometimes being too outspoken can create a backlash and bring about even more injustice! Those who choose to confront have to be willing to go all the way to the mat, and persevere in spite of that backlash. So many behavioral problems we see in children with disabilities are a response to perceived injustices. The level of effect varies of course depending on how well a child understands what is happening. Children with milder disabilities who have a greater mental capacity do often suffer from depression and anxiety caused by the social consequences of their disability. For for students that I teach, it is more subtle. All my kids can tell who does and who does not like them, and they somehow gravitate toward those people and avoid the people who are afraid or indifferent.
5. Do children with special needs ever receive or get peculiar responses from other children?
Responses range from indifference to being compassionate to feeling sorry for the child with disabilities. Much of it depends on how severe the disability is. As a society, I think we’ve gotten better about how people with physical disabilities are treated. Behavioral disabilities are a whole different matter, and reactions to students who scream, yell, holler, bite themselves and hit themselves is mostly along some continuum of fear. BUT having said that, children are often better about dealing with it than the adults. When I talk to students, they often simply want to have their questions answered about the disability and then they are mostly fine. The adults take more convincing and I think it is because adults have their own schedules and agendas compared to students. Those schedules and agendas are more easily disrupted by students with disabilities, hence more hostility and prejudice.
6. How can a person, like myself, make sure not to commit any prejudices accidentally against people with disabilities?
Don’t shrink. By that, I mean don’t be so afraid of committing an act of prejudice that you avoid contact with people with disabilities altogether. And remember that “all people would like to be seen as compassionate and caring” applies to you too! I make mistakes all the time and sometimes readers are good about pointing them out. I take it, process and try to do better next time. And those of us who are dealing with disabilities everyday probably have to be even more mindful of our thinking as it is sometimes more difficult to think of people as people rather than commodities or products. There is a lot of cultural pressure to standardize our education system, and standardization and homogenization encourage prejudice by demanding everyone be the same. Our kids are different by definition, so every attempt to make everyone the same automatically puts them at a disadvantage.
7. Finally, what. In your opinion, is the best way to spread disability awareness? What have you tried, besides writing in your blog?
The best way to spread disability awareness is the same way as spreading awareness of any other cause. And that is to limit segregation and isolation. One of the biggest challenges that we have had to face is the idea of inclusion and what it means. Generally, including people with disabilities in the larger community is the best and most effective way to promote awareness and acceptance. When we were out in the community for instruction, we were serving the students but we were also serving the good of the greater community by helping people be aware of these exceptional individuals. It is very difficult to be seen as compassionate and caring when you don’t have anyone to be seen as compassionate and caring toward! My blog provides me with a vehicle to talk about some of these issues, but I’m mostly preaching to the choir. Most of you already are part of the disability community in some sense. While I’m imparting a little knowledge I’m not doing as much for disability awareness as when I answer the questions people might have when they see my students. People do watch me and those of us in the business, and I do have to be more mindful of that. Other people will often take their cues as to how to respond to those with disabilities from those of us who do it everyday. If we can remember to be caring and humane in our everyday dealings, that helps everyone else who is less familiar as well as makes life better for the students themselves.
Those are the questions, and if you feel like you want to add anything, of course feel free to do so. Once again thank you for giving me this opportunity!
Thanks for giving me the opportunity! Doing interviews like this helps me think about what I’m doing in different ways as it provokes some thought and reflections on my own practice. It also helps encourage me in that people actually care about what I’m saying here!