>> Sunday, February 28, 2010
Tonight I was leaving Publix (a Southern grocery store) and a the face of a gorgeous young boy grabbed my attention from the cover of a magazine. But, my immediate thought was "ugh!"
Why? Well, two weeks ago I picked up a Birmingham Parent Magazine and inside saw they had a cover model contest. Cool, eh? But, they showed a winner from a few age groups and then a "special needs" category winner. What a blow to my gut? Hey all you people with Special Kids -- they aren't cute enough to win a "real" contest, so let's tokenize them and throw y'all a bone -- a category of your own.
Now, I know some of you can't believe I'm saying this and think it is just great! I'm not buying it. I'm angry that as I fight for inclusion, children with special needs are being excluded everywhere I look. And, here's the rub, if you don't think Miss Magic is cute enough to win a contest, don't pick her! Just like you probably wouldn't pick 2 million other kids whose eyes are big enough, whose lips aren't full enough, whose skin isn't creamy enough, etc. Just don't patronize me but adding a special category for kids "like" her and call it "special needs" when we all know you mean "visible disabilities that may detract from typical expectations of attractiveness." Certainly, a child with autism wouldn't have one that category because you couldn't see his or her disability!
So, back to tonight (breathe Carol, breathe). The little boy who one the special needs category is now the cover model for Birimingham Parent, and across his chest are the printed words, "Chosen to Love A Special Child."
Dear Parents: at some point, I know we have all wrestled with the WHY question. Some of us find our answer in biology, some in God, some in the fates. But, we have to remember there is a world out there forming opinions of our children's rights to participate in this society based on how we frame them. Saying you are "chosen," indicates others are not. It gives them an "out." They can sit back and think "I wasn't chosen, so why should I be bothered by you and your child, who were."
And, while I'm on the language issue, let me let you in on a little secret. My child with T21 is not an "angel," another metaphor I find haunting, creepy and downright unproductive. How can your child be included if people are in the midst of someone divine and holy? A friend of mine talks about "discrimination through deification," in a completely different context. I think it works quite well here, too.
Let's get real:
* My child has additional resources needs; given the proper supports, they can be met.
* My child does not have the natural ability to be a professional dancer; neither do 99.5% of the other kids in her dance studio, so leave her with her peers!
* My child will have a few more melt downs than most; big deal -- put on your big people pants and practice your best parenting/teaching skills.
* My child will have areas of relative strengths and weakness; so will any child.
See her as "special" or an "angel, " or as in need of her own groups (even beauty contests!) -- and she'll always be excluded. It is time to admit that my daughter has delays in comparison with the typical child. YUP. Some biggies too. I'm not ashamed to say she has significant cognitive impairments. I refuse to wrap it in pretty bows or lovely labels to make other people feel better. All children are different. There would be no typical if atypical did not exist. Typical doesn't mean right, good, or better. Goodness know, with my college students, the biggest insult I could hurl at them would be that they are gasp -- average!
Let's pull together and stop defining disability in terms of ability and creating new standards and categories. Let's take each disability for what it is -- an interrelated set of issues that require different accommodations than your typical child.
Different you say...not just "accommodations?" Different accommodations. Children who are "typical" get the "accommodation" of pencil and paper. Children who are nonverbal get the "accommodation" of PECS. Children who are sighted get the "accommodation" of lights; children who have hearing impairments get the "accommodation" of sign language.
We all get accommodations -- we just see them as rights. We don't need new categories for everything; we just need to stop judging everything that is "typical" as "right" and "good."
End of my rant . . . and perhaps tomorrow I will see things differently. For now, though, I feel a bit sad that for as far as people want to say we have come, we still have an awfully long way to go.