TW: some readers will find the content of this article distressing. It references stories of abuse of disabled children within educational settings.
Did you know that in the past 3 months there have been eight stories published by the Australian media of abuse of autistic and otherwise disabled children in educational settings? These stories represent the damaged lives of more than 50 people. In the vast majority of these cases the perpetrators of violence against disabled people have been defended- and claims of the victims minimized- with phrases like “reasonable force”, “no wrongdoing”, “action justified”, “full physical prompt”, “lack of training”, and “walk in their shoes”.
There are advocates asking for action to defend the victims. The media is happy to publish statements from advocacy groups who “call for a Royal Commission”. I’m not happy with that, though. I am so tired of the Monty Python-esque response of “Right! This calls for immediate discussion!”
We don’t need more discussion. We need action. We need policy change and people to stand up for our kids. More discussion is just going to lead to more children’s lives irreparably broken while adults talk about something that is so obvious it’s an embarrassment to us all that it’s not acknowledged. Our education system is not equipped to provide a safe learning environment for disabled children- they are harmed both in mainstream and segregated learning environments.
Maybe instead of debating whether abuse of disabled kids is actually abuse, we should stop abusing them. Maybe instead of finding reasons to blame kids for their own abuse, we could do something about the environments and systems that allow the abuse.
Why is it that if my non disabled daughter was dragged down the hall in a headlock then locked in a cupboard someone would get in trouble, but if that was done to my autistic daughter people would excuse it?
image above: green circle containing the words ‘We have to be prepared to drop the ideas that some lives are worth more than others, that one kind of progress is more valuable than another, that there is a right way to be and a wrong way to be.’
We have to be open to acknowledging that some of our old ideas were wrong, that the presence of disabled students does not slow down the learning of others, that it is not automatically safer for everyone if segregated learning is continued.
The research has been done, the evidence is there. Even simple anecdotal evidence concurs. Inclusion is better for everybody. Inclusion must happen. But it can’t happen meaningfully or safely until we shift our thinking as a society.
We could be offering disabled students the chance to reach their potential and achieve their goals and dreams- rights they share with their non disabled peers. Instead, we risk losing a generation of children to a lazy rhetoric of excuses that condemns them to risk of physical harm, social isolation, self doubt, and emotional anguish.
When are we going to stop talking about it, and start doing something?