As a parent of a child with autism, you develop a bit of a thick skin. You become used to the ignorance of some people, or their insensitivity, or their dismissiveness. You develop ways of deflecting and counteracting negative attitudes; all for the good of your child’s wellbeing.
Being an advocate is a tough gig, but not one we resent for a moment. The rewards are amazing.
Reflecting on the last eight years, I would have thought I’d experienced the full range of attitudes — from total conviction that ‘autism’ is a thing made up to excuse poor parenting, to people who ‘get it’, right through to people who are so supportive they are suffocating (in that they wish to wrap you and your child up in cotton wool because ‘how else could you possibly cope, you poor thing’).
However, yesterday I realised I hadn’t experienced every attitude — and this one’s a beauty, so strap yourself in.
One of our political ‘leaders’ (and I use that term very loosely) let loose in parliament the suggestion that students with autism were holding mainstream children back and should be put into special classes.
These kids have a right to education, by all means. But if there is a number of them, these children should actually go into a special classroom, looked after and given that special attention. Because most of the time, the teacher spends so much time on them they forget about the child who wants to go ahead in leaps and bounds in their education but is held back by those, because the teachers spend time with them. And I’m not denying them. If it was one of my children I would love all the time given to them, to give them those opportunities. But is it at the loss of our other kids? So our education is very important, and I just feel that it needs to be handled correctly, and we need to get rid of these people because you want everyone to feel good about themselves. Let’s get some common sense back into our classrooms and what we do.
—Pauline Hanson, One Nation Leader (abc.net.au/news)
The worst thing about this statement is that Senator Hanson has tossed all children on the Autism Spectrum into the same basket. That, in itself, shows her complete lack of understanding as to what the ‘spectrum’ actually is. She also mentions the term ‘other disabilities’ at some point, but there is no denying she has zoned in on Autism.
Pauline Hanson is well-known for her tendency to target minority groups with her bigoted, sexist, racist and archaic attitudes, but this latest is a new low, even for her. She is targeting children!
What is not new, however, is she is yet again looking at the victims and attributing blame and punishment to them. She is trying to cover this with emotion, implying ‘we want the best for everyone’, but her solution is to segregate the people she sees as causing the problem. I am amazed she didn’t use the word ‘institution’ at some point.
The thing is this — not only does this statement show Hanson to be a person who does not understand autism (at all), but it also paints her as a simplistic person who lacks the ability to think and problem solve, and genuinely believes there is only one solution to fit all.
Let’s remove the problem would have to be the most simple, yet ineffective, solution ever proposed in any scenario, least of all this one.
Many of the people who know me expected, I’m sure, a huge outpouring of anger and contempt from me yesterday; and this is exactly why I deliberately chose not to write anything in the heat of the moment.
Staying relatively silent (apart from a tiny outburst on Facebook) for the past 24 hours has afforded me the opportunity to wear both of my hats (parent and teacher) and read between the poorly worded lines spewed forth by our senator. In doing so, I have realised this: she has a point, but as per her usual cowardice, she has targeted the wrong group.
The point I would like to believe Senator Hanson was trying to make is that teachers need more support to adequately meet the needs of all of their students. The groups she should have been targeting are the various departments of education (and associated groups) who flatly refuse to supply funding for teacher training in specialised education (including strategies for working with children with Autism) and full-time in-class support for teachers who have special needs children in their classes.
As the situation stands, teachers who have access to full-time support (by way of a ‘learning support assistant’) are as rare as hen’s teeth. Some of us are ‘lucky’ to have this support for one hour a day, often at a time when support is least needed.
So, yes, a teacher’s time is often consumed by supporting the children with special needs. It is also spent dealing with behaviour issues, emotional issues and parent issues from students who do not have any diagnosis … yet I don’t see any call to have these children removed into a special class.
Actually, at any given point of the year, if I was given the luxury to remove all the children from my class who had special needs, behavioural issues, emotional problems — or anything else that took me away from the children who ‘wanted to go ahead in leaps and bounds’ — then I can safely estimate I would only have about five or so children in my class.
And, my question to Pauline is this … where will you find the teachers to teach all of the children I should be able to remove from my classroom, according to your logic?
Sorry? You’re laughing? I’m taking your words ‘out of context’? I’m being unreasonable?
I am being no more unreasonable than the suggestion we can solve the education problem by removing the perceived cause of the problem and locking it up in its own special box (even if we do let it out to play at lunchtime). I’m also being no more unreasonable than the insinuation that all children with Autism be removed, because of course, they are all the same.
Learning without thought is useless; thought without learning is dangerous.
May I suggest to Senator Pauline Hanson (and to everyone who voted for her or agrees with her on this matter) that you first try allocating some of your time to thought before you shoot off at the mouth about something you clearly know very little about.
And, if that doesn’t float your boat, may I propose that we remove all people like you to your own special segregated box, because you are holding us back!