Sometimes they're just not that f**king special.
There are some stereotypes that are often endearingly true. Scottish people can be brash, loud, and frequently friendly when drunk, Muslims can be welcoming and open-minded, old folk can be cute and slow, whites can be willfully self-deprecating, and blacks can be excitable and encouraging with a dramatic wave of the hand. Have I suitably labelled enough controversially earmarked societal norms with enough conditional conjunctions? Here’s one that we don’t often hear spoken about; the unhidden but unspoken taboo that special needs ain’t that extraordinary.
If you are offended, then please look away now.
You might have seen a recent advertisement featuring young adults with a variety of special educational needs or are deemed “special.” And, interestingly enough, even these people, some with profound disability, indicate that the word “special” implies and is treated as some sort of super human ability that defies the natural order of humanity and that is uncompromising. One quip that especially tickles me is that “it would be special if people with disabilities needed to eat dinosaur eggs” while a lad with Downs Syndrome beseeches a waitress for something else to eat.
I have spent a portion of my professional career working alongside children and young adults with special educational needs and I have learnt something that, even with my love for people and children, I have secretly (so secret I must use a nom de plume) become painfully satisfied with. That the ways in which we behave and engineer the world around people with SEN is an extension of the “delicate snowflake” culture that introduces manic changes in legislation and desperate censorship of that which is construed as opinion. And, aside from hurt feelings, when has opinion hurt anyone when it is simply voiced by one person and upheld by few? See this… I’m already making a case for myself to soften the blow.
In the time I have worked with people whom happen to have special educational needs in the capacity of an educator, I have been kicked, bitten, punched, stabbed, ridiculed, sworn at, felt up, felt down, lied to, lied about, all the while performing back breaking work in order to facilitate legislation and statute that is there to protect only one individual in these scenarios; the perpetrator. The ever loving, ever hugging, ever incapable of fully understanding the nature of their actions individual with disability. Why? Because they are disabled. Because they are deemed to be far more defenceless than myself due to being what is legally described by the government as “vulnerable.”
In nearly every category of special need identified by the government, less than half, and often only a quarter, of all schools providing special education are approved to administer care and teaching for children. Given the higher rate of comorbidity between different special needs, I fail to see how these schools can be approved to administer appropriate care. And I feel this demonstrates something that is severely lacking in our perspective on disability: equity. The social model of disability prostrates that we must see beyond the label in order to see the person but what happens when we deny that person even the worst traits of humankind; bullying, justified anger, unjustified anger, cruelty, nastiness, fury, sarcasm, sorrow? Consistently viewing a person as “special” imbibes them with a level of universal immunity that we reserve for saints and superheroes. So when you are a member of staff, how exactly do you identify yourself as a target of abuse when the person has a moral immunity? How does a parent or guardian seek support from a legal authority when the legal authority is equipped with rose tinted glasses through which they only see the sunshine and rainbows of little Downs children singing ring-around-the-rosey with a clapping wheelchair user grinning in the middle? How does a teacher educate a child with SEN when that child has only a 25 percent likelihood of having an effective education, health, and care plan to follow? The answer is you put up and shut up because local government may want to appear supporting of equality but unwilling to foot the bill for an appropriate level of equity.
The SEN workforce is inundated with staff that are over-worked, underpaid, undertrained, and under supported answering to struggling parents and guardians at their wit's end supported by a government that issues a promise of a “special” relationship but are incapable, whether financially or morally, of fulfilling it because you cannot raise a person with equal values if there is no special approach to their learning.
It is my belief that the only thing “special” about special educational needs is the exceptional ignorance that comes with separating the word “special” from the action. Special is bandied about like a glittery banner to detract people from actually teaching or learning anything. And it perpetuates the stigma. Everyone is special unless you are “thpecial” special. And then you get a sticker. That’s it.
A frank and honest rant about the state of SEN. Some content readers may find it offensive.