Thursday, June 5, 2014

My Special Students are not Sweethearts

I work with a lot of different people in disability services, so in turn I see a lot of different disabilities. I am interested in all of my work really, and try not to limit myself. But I never forget where it started, and continues to this day, with one day a week at Special School.

At Special School, in my particular classroom, I have students who have severe physical impairments but who also have brains much brighter than their bodies. I sometimes classify this as the cruelest turns of fate, to be in a body and you want it to work but you know it doesn't and it won't. It is different from Autism, which I heard beautifully put as 'seeing life through a different window, not understanding what you see, and nobody understands it either' (a generalization, but holds true for many people I know). It is different from intellectual impairment.

I know my students well. They are getting older, so I like to refer to them as my friends. They are all clever - much cleverer than people give them credit for. They can be lovely, but not always. They are teenagers and I remember my moodiness as a teenager all too well.

What I cannot stand is upon a minute of meeting them, someone who says "Oh bless them, what sweethearts!"

One of my students is, I'll give you that much. She is a sweetie, and she is often happy, and she is quick to smile and laugh. She is sweet. I'll even let you say she is a sweetheart.

But one of my other students that I can think of? Sweetheart is not the first word I would think to describe her. Bright, vivacious and bitter. I know her. She is currently limited as we unlock a key for an effective communication device, and this can make her angry. Would you call any other high-school aged student a "sweetheart" moments after meeting them?

One day, a friend of mine who is studying to be a social worker wrote this on Facebook

"It never ceases to amaze me how much people with disabilities despite all the discrimination they face on a daily basis are still some of the kindest and friendliest people I know."

That's coming from a social worker. A mass generalization on all people with disabilities.

I work with many different people. Guess what? I get bitten. I get spat on - purposefully, too. I am often covered with bodily fluids (nobody's fault). I get yelled at, by other carers. I try and stop self-injurious behaviours. I listen to a lot of squealing. I sometimes have to run a lot.

Sometimes I work with sweethearts. Sometimes I work with real cool cats. Sometimes I work with a mate or a buddy, and everything in between.

It's not glamorous. There is nothing romantic about this.

My Special Students are not Sweethearts, simply because they have a disability.
I've gotten it before too. I know my friend Emily from Words I Wheel By gets it too, as does her mum.

Any assumption about a person with a disability: that they will be sweethearts or not is a massive and unfair overgeneralization. We should be seeing a person before a disability. When we judge or assume that someone will be one way or another because of their disability, no matter what the disability, we are not being person-first.

And clearly, sometimes even social workers need a reminder on that.

14 comments:

  1. Yep! They are people. Even the ones that are generally sweet can have bad days. Good points, all!

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  2. I consider myself generally sweet, but this is just a "me" thing.

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    1. I'm sure you are :) There are sweet people in the world - those with and without disabilities.

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  3. The little shout out made me smile, but more importantly - you're absolutely right. So often, we're lumped together and stereotyped as being cheerful and happy go lucky all the time. But we're just human!

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    1. I'm glad it made you smile, Emily! Yes. We are just human. I can tell someone is uncomfortable around disability, even when they seem to be acting relaxed, when they pull out a statement with those stereotypes.

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  4. You are so right. People are people are people, whether or not they have special needs. They're not all sweethearts. But they are real people!

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    1. Thanks for that Jolene. Really appreciate it :)

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  5. This is so true! I find myself very jealous of parents whose special needs children really are sweethearts because as much as I love Bethany to infinity and beyond, most of the time she is not sweet, especially when she's beating me up!

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    1. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I do admire you, Sylvia. I admire most parents really, but I think you face your challenges in a manner that is honest and strong. It is inspiring to me.

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  6. This is 1000% true. I work with someone every calls a "sweetheart" and he's wonderful. He's absolutely adorable, he's sweet, he can be kind, but he's not a sweetheart. He picks on little kids, just this past week he's hit, kicked, bit, and scratched me repeatedly. God, I love that little guy. But I'll be darned if I let anyone call him a sweetheart. Yes, he's a wonderful adorable little guy, but please stop with the generilization.

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    1. Thank you, Tisa! It's great to see you get it!

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  7. Love this! I wrote about this very thing just the other week for What Do You Do, Dear? Basically, it's frustrating for people to assume people with disabilities are always sweet and kind and virtuous. Society makes us assume a pedestal and although better than vilifying us...it's undeserved and furthermore bizarre.

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    1. Ah Kimmie! Thank you so much for reading! I really did fan-girl a bit when I read that, because I loved what you have to say on What Do You Do, Dear? and That Girl in the Wheelchair. Thanks for popping by and reading!

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