I wasn’t surprised to read Australian Senator Pauline Hanson’s comments supporting the segregation of autistic students yesterday,
“I think that we have more autistic children, yet we are not providing the special classrooms or the schools for these autistic children.
“It is no good saying that we have to allow these kids to feel good about themselves and that we do not want to upset them and make them feel hurt.
“I understand that, but we have to be realistic at times and consider the impact this is having on other children in the classroom.”
I wasn’t surprised because I have heard exactly those words from friends and acquaintances. People who in theory support human rights, and have publicly and privately supported my work in disability rights. People who I know to be good people and good parents.
Sadly, when it comes down to their own child in their classroom, the same people tell me they are frustrated that their child isn’t getting the attention they want them to have. They are frustrated that the teacher seems to be spending more time on Mary or Johnny, the autistic kid, the disabled kid, the ADHD kid, the kid with challenging behaviours. In theory they support inclusion. In practice, they are complaining about Mary and Johnny, and wanting them gone from their classrooms and schools.
When I hear this, coming from people I know, it angers me. I am a parent of three autistic children. My children could be those very children they want out of their children’s classrooms.
I wonder, why isn’t information reaching parents about the clear benefits of children growing up and going to school with students with disabilities? Why are parents so willing to blame disabled children for their child’s lack of support in the classroom? Why aren’t they marching in to the Prinicpal’s office and demanding more resources for all students in their classroom rather than demanding Mary or Johnny get moved to another class?
Why are we telling our Senators that we want disabled children segregated in to special education away from neurotypical children? Why aren’t we pointing the finger at a chronically underfunded and broken system and demanding better for all students?
Yesterday’s speech by Senator Hanson once again confirms my fears that autistic children are seen as problems to be hidden away and treated like trash – in dark closets in schools and in locked bedrooms, in group homes and foster care, and in special education.
It confirms my belief that our community does not want us among them.
It confirms my fears that my children will grow up with peers whose parents dislike them, and whose schools do not want them. They will grow up in a community who are doing everything they can to shove them away.
My children will grow up and as adults hope to work and build relationships with those same peers. Yet I fear they will not be wanted in workplaces, sports clubs and community groups. Their peers will have grown up exposed to the negative attitudes of their parents and without opportunities to build friendships and get to know autistic people. That’s a sad fact that deeply troubles me as a mother and an autistic person.
This morning, as a new day rises after the hurt of yesterday’s words, I reach out to my community.
Autistic children and young people, you are awesome! I see you contributing so much to your families, your friendships, and your schools. I love your passions for books, minecraft, collecting things, art, cooking, ancient history.. or whatever is bringing you joy right now. The way you want to relate to other people, and the needs of your body are totally OK. It’s OK to want to message your friends and email your teacher instead of meet up with them in person. It’s OK to need to wear sunglasses in the classroom, and headphones on the bus. It’s OK to see dancing colours in your maths textbook and hear the sounds of the grass whispering outside the classroom. There’s lots of adults in the world just like you, and lots who aren’t too, all who will love and accept you as you are.
Autistic people, rage at our politicians, and teachers’ unions, and parents who discriminate. Write letters, join advocacy groups, complain to your friends, eat chocolate, and be angry. Feel afraid. Switch everything off. Stop reading the news. Pat your cats. Hug your kids. Go for a walk or paint something. Whatever you need to do to cope with more media, more bad words said about us, and more complaining about us from people who clearly don’t know us and understand us.
Parents of autistic children, keep fighting the stigma and absolute fucking failure of our community to show leadership in accepting and valuing our precious babies. Fight the school for more support. Or pull your kids out of school and home educate.* Raise confident children who know their rights as disabled people and can ask for their needs to be met. Hold your babies close and tell them they are perfect as autistic people. Show them that you love them and you don’t want them to change. Don’t let them think that their acceptance in your eyes, or in the world, depends on them acting more neurotypical. Bring people in to your life who will offer your children unconditional love.
Keep on fighting and believing in the value of autistic people. Despite this week feeling like nothing will ever change, it does and it will. We’ve got this
Much love, Briannon
* My family have chosen to home educate our children for many reasons, including ironically, their improved ability to be included, build friendships and participate in community when outside of the education system. Despite this, I fully support disabled students’ right to meaningful inclusion and lament that this is not an option available for my children if school education becomes a choice we want or need to make in the future.