Scientists keep working hard on finding a cure for cognitive disabilities, such as Down syndrome, for example.
Disabilities like this one are usually perceived as a burden, as a genetic mistake, as an unexpected and undesirable circumstance with which no one wants to live. Then, disability is blamed for the lack of opportunities and the limited future that this population is destined to live.
Because of this, it’s not surprising that many parents live in the constant search for a cure, or something that at least can improve their child’s developmental level to make their lives easier. As parents, we are led to believe that with our children’s disability comes societal isolation because they don’t belong and therefore, we don’t either. In fact, it’s our job to demonstrate that our children are worth it in order for them to have worthy opportunities and gain their place in the community.
So, if you show up to school with your child with disabilities and ask for the least restrictive environment (which you should!), everyone at the table will often, instead of respecting the inclusive intention of this component of the law of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, try to convince you that your child is not smart enough, not functional enough and not worthy of a regular life. In other words, shielded under their professional titles, many can and will limit someone else’s human right to belong, and they’ll get away with it too.
The most common excuses are:
- Your child doesn’t have the requested or appropriate social skills. We need to protect him. Translation: It’s easier for us to place your child in a segregated classroom where he’s never going to be able to gain those skills, because guess what? We are depriving him of the opportunity to face challenges and learn to regulate his emotions. On top of that, the “typical” children will never have a chance to learn that people may have disabilities let alone that they can live alongside them. So instead of growing up to understand that disability is natural, the day they face it, they will be scared. And the vicious circle Will continue forever. And one day, if those “typical children” have a loved one or a child with special needs, they will have no clue what to do or how to act appropriately and with love and acceptance.
- Your child doesn’t learn like the others, and he needs more supports from a segregated classroom where his curriculum is going to be modified to his own needs. Translation: We don’t want to deal with kids as individuals. We’d rather create a separate placement where they can go as slow as they can without interrupting other, more “typical” students. What happens next? Your child gets frustrated, starts acting out, and instead of realizing that he’s bored, annoyed or angry, we decide to blame disability and segregate him in a more intense level.
- Your child doesn’t know how to behave. He will be safer in a self-contained classroom. Translation: Your child needs to be punished because of his behavioral challenges. As a result, we don’t feel responsible for providing behavior strategies or exhausting all the possible resources before limiting him. We just decided that he couldn’t handle a mainstream classroom without even trying.
Sadly, as a society we keep pressuring parents to believe that their children are unteachable and the only available placement for them is a low-functioning, low-expectation classroom in which they are going to pass their days until the day they graduate with no academic, nor social skills. Segregation doesn’t help. Instead, it limits our children even more, teaching them that they don’t belong and they never will. A child who’s grown in a segregated environment goes directly to a future of segregation from the rest of the society.
That’s why I’m not looking for a “cure” for my children’s disabilities. Instead, I would be much happier if science could find a cure for the most discouraging condition that affects and limits the lives of people with disabilities and their families: a closed mindset.
If science would create a pill that allows people to open their minds and overcome their own limitations, then:
- Instead of labeling hopeful parents as “problematic or in denial,” we would be excited to work along with them in order to see what they see and give that child all the opportunities that he or she deserves and needs.
- We would all become great inclusion advocates who know and understand that inclusion is not a favor to those with disabilities, but the next step to normalize disability and give everyone an opportunity to evolve and at last understand that there is nothing to cure about it, but much to learn about the individual living with it.
- The chain would keep connecting with no efforts and no pressure, because when schools are inclusive and when society is inclusive, we are exposed to situations that stop being “weird” or uncommon, because they are a common part of the world we all live in.
If you are the parent of a child with special needs, I beg you: Don’t let anyone tell you or your child that he or she is not good enough or unworthy of everything in life.
Advocate for your child, take it easy when necessary but don’t stop. Together, we can make it happen. We can create an inclusive society where in everyone has the opportunity to learn from one another.