Reflections on Special Needs

Adams Corner - Schulhaus 2
I went to another meeting at my kids’ school last night, this time a general information evening on programmes available through the school for kids with special needs of various sorts.

Sadly there weren’t many people there at all, but I wonder if the very fact of having special needs children also makes it harder to get out the door of an evening. In any case, being actually the only parent there (along with a couple of teacher aides) gave me the opportunity to ask a few questions informally. One of those was, what is ”normal”? My mother keeps asking me this, as everyone around us seems to ”have something”. Although it may be an unfair question in the context of our family, which is pretty much riddled with ADHD and Aspergers and other eccentricities. Maybe there’s just no “normal” in our family and circle of friends.

But my question is genuine and not loaded, though I think it was misunderstood that way, as the answer came back in reassuring words that included “no such thing as perfection”. No, I get that, but I am not asking if other kids also have ”imperfections”. I also get that people are all somewhere on a a theoretical bell curve of normality. But what is “normality” if you were to diagnose it? Does anyone have diagnosable normality?

I guess it’s the outliers on the bell curve, and specifically the ones who struggle with life, who are labeled with things like autism, ADHD, etc, because by nature, diagnoses measure dysfunction, and those who function well, or ok – or seem to – within the system are considered “normal”.

But what strikes me, and it’s heartbreaking, that it’s very, very hard for most of those outliers to be ok. Even with the knowledge and personal experience I have as a parent, and the support of a wonderful school, it’s still hard for my kids to be ok, so for those people who grow up without understanding parents and schools, the result can be disastrous. These are bright kids, with amazing, out-of-the-box minds, who are very vulnerable.

One hurdle to receiving what help is available is that vulnerable kids are not always obviously vulnerable. A child can be unobtrusive and obedient, and be quietly crumbling inside. Or they may be acting out and causing havoc, but this behaviour is in itself a communication that all is not right. And sometimes, ironically, the parents may be doing such a good job that it appears that strategies and accommodations are unnecessary.

However, the information coming out of the talk was reassuring. There is now, unlike when my generation was at school, an emphasis on inclusive education for special needs kids, and our school especially, as well as apparently the Ministry of Education itself finally, is stepping up to take care of individual needs. One concern would still be whether kids like mine, whose needs are not ‘severe’, will slip through the cracks. I think this is still an issue in the Ministry in general, but at this school, they are definitely learning to cater for higher functioning kids as well, and that is a relief, especially as we face high school in the near future.

 

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