Sunday, April 2, 2017

Acceptance, "Awareness," and Education

It's World Autism "Awareness" Day, and I want to talk about ableism in education. 

I come from multiple perspectives because I am Autistic, a parent of Autistic children, and a teacher of disabled and nondisabled students. So by trade I am considered a "special ed" teacher, though I dislike that phraseology. I want to talk about my colleagues though, and how "special ed" teachers see themselves and their students.

The unfortunate fact is that many "special ed" teachers see themselves as heroes simply for working with disabled children. They believe their job is to rescue these children from the fate of being disabled, rather than to support and accommodate. I see emails, shirts, initiatives by these teachers, proclaiming need for awareness, or talking of how the children "struggle every day." 

What they do not recognize is that the struggle is caused by lack of accommodation. Kids are told who they are and what they can do, and how they experience the world, is wrong. They are asked to do without accommodations, to learn to not need them. They assume we wish to not be disabled. That being disabled is inherently bad. It's not. Being disabled with appropriate accommodations is ok. It is not lesser.

So our approach is very different. I look for ways to accommodate. They try to fix. If a child does not walk, it is not my job to teach child to walk. It is my job to make sure places we go are wheelchair accessible. 

It causes trauma to these students. Kids clearly communicate, but teacher withholds in order to "teach" them. Kid cries out in pain as they are made to do things their disabled body is not meant to do. 

We need to flip the script. Look for how to support and accommodate needs. Not look for how to make child no longer have needs.

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