On this Yom Hashoah I remember…. The Nazis philosophy was one of racial superiority. Persons they considered less than human were targeted for expulsion, ghettoization and ultimately for death. This resonates for me so personally, not simply because the Jewish people were nearly wiped out in Europe, but also remembering the fact that the Nazis began their campaign of racial evil by eliminating the disabled, the mentally and physically infirm. I suppose then for me this is a twice-important day of remembrance. Being the parent of Jewish children lends itself to one kind of acknowledgement especially in the age of Holocaust denial, growth in virulent antisemitism, and new or threatened genocides. Yet as the parent of two youngmen with Asperger’s syndrome, today lends itself to another journey. The journey of remembering that throughout history the disabled have been viewed as less than human, less than important, less than worthy of support, education, or even life. So today I remember that my sons are twice threatened by hatred. (The world is still hunting autistics and Jews.)
Natan Sharansky created a test by which we judge the level of anti-Semitism when it comes to criticism against the State of Israel. Holding the Jewish people to a double standard, delegitimizing them if they do not live up to that standard and then dehumanizing them so it is not a crime to murder Jewish people once again. Thus fulfilling all the elements necessary for the commission of genocide. We know that these 3 D’s are rampant within the world’s media, international organizations and yes, on college campuses. But what does this have to do with special needs children? Well here are my thoughts:
I believe there is a double standard when it comes to our children’s behavior. I have come to realize over the years that schools do have a very strict code of conduct for special needs children. Parents shudder every time the phone rings. Just waiting for that call that tells them their child is once again suspended for something they could not control.
Zero tolerance policies in the United States are the bane of our children’s existence. They give no leeway, no thought, no explanation for a child with a behavioral disability. The child steps out of line the punishment is applied. The child melts down, the police are called. The school is under no obligation to rectify their behavior, their policies or to revamp their approach to our children. Our children are classified with issues, given special supports, recognition of deficits in communication, emotional development and their lack of ability to self-help in society is acknowledged, yet these issues are not taken into consideration when punishment is applied.
I think another reason that there is a double standard for our children is that they are always being watched. My boys have always had a one-to-one. I figured out one day, that on any given day in the school district that there could be at least 5 adults there to make sure they functioned. Most students have one adult supervisor and in the high school they really are on their own. Only if something truly egregious happens with a regular education student does the administration actually learn about it. So typical misbehaviors that the average student gets a pass on, since no one saw it happen, is something our children are punished for. (Teaching life’s lessons is not a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong. But special needs children are under intense pressure to be perfect all the time. Something no human being can live up to.)
The second D, is delegitimizing our children. How often have you been told that our children cannot think, they cannot play, they cannot laugh, and they cannot be like everyone else? As I have written many times before, the psychiatric community, school districts, state legislatures have decided that our children cannot show empathy, (emotions and autism) they cannot lie (wish that one were true), and they have no ability to understand humor. It disenfranchises them of their humanity. It takes away from them the right to try to strive in the world and to make of their lives what they will. To delegitimize someone is take away from them their very basic human right of self-determination. No one has the right to take from our children the future of their choice. But it happens every day. It is only recently in fact, that children with disabilities were even considered able to go on to post-secondary education; that they weren’t shuttled into remedial programs and sentenced to a life of menial labor and state dependency.
The third and last D is the dehumanization of the special needs child. There was a law before Congress to Prevent Restraint and Seclusion of autistic children. The utter terror of it is that this bill is even needed. Restraint and seclusion is when they take a child with special needs and put them in lockdown (at times for hours on end). Many children are even put in restraints. They are manhandled and assaulted by those that are supposed to be their helpers, their guardians, their support. If a parent did this it would be considered child abuse.
What kind of education system is it when adults think this is the way to teach a child? Who puts a child in a locked room alone? Who puts a child in restraints? Who sits on a child and refuses them food? What adult hits a special needs child? Who votes a child out of class and retains her job? These are all actions done to thousands of special needs children throughout the USA every day. None of which, by the way, is allowable in dealing with regular education students. Our children are not seen as equal members of society when they can be treated like this with impunity and the school districts, along with teachers unions, demand that they be given leeway to handle children with special needs in this manner.
Sadly the bill did not pass the House.
I wonder what future generations will think of us. Will we be strong enough to fight the three Ds? Will we stand up and be counted? Will our children be able to turn to us one day and say thank you or will they want to know why we gave up? Will our children understand that we did everything we could for them? Will they understand that we fought for them every step of the way? That we demand compassion be taught to every generation so that all persons, no matter their abilities, be thought of as human beings. (Teaching acceptance-rejecting hatred and bigotry)
On this Yom Hashoah it is important to remember…. Philosophers say that you judge a society by how it treats it weakest members. Persons with special needs are about as weak as it comes.