On June 21, 2017 Pauline Hanson, one of our federal politicians who holds a significant level of influence, spoke out against including Autistic and Neurodivergent children in mainstream schooling.
She stated that “we need to get rid of those people” and there was a strong implication that “those people”….. “do not want to get ahead”, that they hold their neurotypcial peers back and take all the attention of the educators as they disrupt the class.
Her language was divisive, crude and her personal opinions whilst clearly ignorant, were also morally contemptible.
Public commentary has widely condemned her. There have been those who have white washed her comments with excuses that she was generalising and just being clumsy with her rhetoric.
She has refused to apologise for any offence and staunchly maintained her position.
That position: Autistic children should be removed from mainstream schooling.
As a mother of a child on the spectrum and a wife to a husband on the spectrum, both high functioning for what that is worth, I am beyond annoyed, disappointed, incredulous and FUCKING ANGRY!
Her comments are discriminatory, out-dated, and most of all, so hurtful.
I am not on the spectrum. I am the odd one out in my household. Even my dogs have issues. That’s not to say that I don’t. I am considered neurotypcial and “normal” whatever that means. So why am I hurt?
I am hurt to my core because this politician is denigrating and promoting segregation of the people that I love. People whose difference is the norm in my home. People who love and adore me and would take a bullet before seeing me hurt. People who are incredibly smart, successful, productive members of our community. They are kind, passionate, quirky, funny as hell and craving love, connection and purpose like we all do.
My son, now 9 is thriving in mainstream school. There was a time when he was very young (baby – around age 6) when we were facing significant challenges with his behaviours, his sensory issues, his inability to sleep for long periods, his determination, his inflexibility. This all lead to catastrophic meltdowns, hitting, punching and screaming. I didn’t believe we could ever toilet train him and was a firm believer that he would be attending a non-mainstream, supported education centre. It was a time of intense emotions, crippling fear and a level of fatigue that I have never, ever known before. (I think I am still recovering from that actually but that is another post for another time.)
Through earliest intervention and committed daily work at home, my son has managed to understand in part his regulation issues, to a point where they are exhibited less frequently.
Melt downs are never demonstrated at school. The age appropriate strategies we have taught and over practiced, help him to be manage his emotions like any other child in his cohort. His school reports exemplary. The teachers’ comments: he is a gentle, compliant, polite and a good, hard working student.
That is not to imply that he is “cured”. I would never insult my child, my husband or anyone on the spectrum in that way. What I mean is that he is now more able to manage, to regulate his behaviour at school and meet the behavioural expectations set.
What I am saying is that my son is on the spectrum and therefore different.
He is different but not less.
He is as different to his peers as I am to you or you are to your friends.
Tall, short, intense, anxious, happy, clinical, analytical, warm. All traits and in our household, we see Autism like a trait. We celebrate its strengths, focus on capabilities and understand where it presents as a challenge.
Whilst your child might be having extra coaching with maths, my child will have extra coaching with social skills. Where your child may be quiet and shy, passionate about ballet and music, mine is reserved, analytical and passionate about space and the human digestive system. As with our own friendship circles, we all have areas of similarity and connection and yet we are all very different too.
People living on the spectrum or with other special needs do not deserve mandatory exclusion. They require understanding, tolerance and your acceptance. Just because some people look and think differently, whom are marching to the beat of their own drum, doesn’t automatically equate them to being a threat. Their diagnosis is just a medical term for the challenges they face.
Clearly the decision to be mainstream schooled or attend alternative supported education is a decision that parents DO NOT TAKE LIGHTLY.
Parents want the best for their child and best is where their child learns, thrives and develops towards independence. Best does not mean what everyone else is doing.
Parents of special needs children choose schooling like neurotypical parents do. Private or public if funds allow? Single sex or co-ed? Travel time from home? Are we in the right catchment area? However, the decision for my family was also made more complex and layered by these questions: Can he cope with the demands of mainstream schooling? Academically yes, but what about the fluidity of un-structured play; the level of unsupported social interaction at recess and lunchtimes; independent toiling; independent eating from a lunchbox; non assigned seating in the classroom????????
Will the school we choose understand and support his needs? That means, do they have the knowledge, time and empathy to do that? Will the school want him? It has to be a decision based primarily on the child’s capacity and function and then, in conversation with the prospective school.
There is a brilliant rainbow of children in every Australian classroom.
Children the vibrant elements, the colours that make up the beauty that can be seen when the sun comes out after the rain and causes you to wonder whimsically where that pot of gold is at. Children can and do, come to school without breakfast, hungry, angry, from hurt homes, from stressed homes, from a myriad of issues that have a direct impact on their behaviour which the teacher then needs to diagnose and work to resolve, before individual learning can begin. If we are going to scapegoat Autistic children as the reason for disruptive classrooms then surely this precedent means we have a segregated classroom or special school where troubled children are also shunted off as they take up too much of the teachers time when they lash out, call out or disengage.
Going along this line of thought whilst we are at it, the latest research says that in any classroom, there is up to 7 years emotional age difference within that single classroom cohort. So, those children that are emotionally immature compared to their peers, who have some issues with self regulation because of their age, the precedent is set where we must pop them on the conveyor belt outta there and offsite to their segregated special room until they grow up and can re-join the norm.
Out-dated, archaic and ridiculous thinking.
We have anti-discrimination laws in this country to protect the vulnerable, the different, the marginalised. Laws that promote equal rights for all. Pauline Hanson is a beneficiary of those laws as she is a woman in power. Something that was very difficult not so long ago. She should know what it is like have stones thrown at you, to be bullied and dismissed because of her difference – in this case, her gender.
I would like to remind us all that the diagnosis DOES NOT DEFINE AN INDIVIDUAL.
Rather, a diagnosis is part of the make up of an individual. And when you have met one person on the Autism spectrum, you have met one person on the Autism spectrum. It is a spectrum like the rainbow. Each parent must consider the child and their individual needs when it comes to education decisions.
All neurodivergent people are individually beautiful and add to the tapestry of our existence. Many neuro-atypical people are hugely successful and some eclipse even the most notable billionaires if that is your yardstick of measurement.
“These People” are voters Ms Hanson. “These People” are future voters Ms Hanson. You are elected to represent “These People.” Our children, our partners, our lovers and your countrymen.
With great power, comes great responsibility. Words must be carefully crafted as they change community perceptions and normalise attitudes either positively or negatively towards difference. Pauline Hanson knows this.
Difference does not equal threat. Blind stupidity does.
So controversially I say this:
People living with Autism, ADD or other “special” needs, you have a medial diagnosis to help explain your challenges. (Not that you need to btw)
There is no excuse for stupid.
So given that, now the question should be this:
Pauline Hanson, what’s your F’ing excuse??
Apols for the rant but this is too important in this day and age to let pass unnoticed. I will always stand up for my child, my husband, my friends and anyone else who is marginalised, excluded or discriminated against on the basis of bullshit, ignorance and ill-informed people who unfortunately hold positions of power and influence in my country.