There are elections around the corner here in Australia, and one popular (somewhat populist) term we frequently hear is that ‘everybody should have a fair go’. When you are the parent of a child with special needs in a mainstream school, chances are you often wonder about what is fair when it comes to the conditions and outcomes of the education of your child.
In the beginning, I felt often somewhat guilty for my disruptive, distressed child and his autism amongst all the other ‘neurotypical’ kids. I wondered if their parents who said “oh you’re Nemo’s mum? Yeah, Clara talks about him..” were maybe secretly wishing he was not in their kid’s class, bringing disturbance to their own child’s learning progress.
Admittedly, in the beginning of Year 1, Nemo’s presence in school was chaotic, loud and confusing. Even for me.
So I wondered if it was fair on the other kids having to “put up” with my son who got an over-proportionate share of the attention of their teacher and got allowances for behaviour due to his autism that would have brought on disciplining for them. And while my personal premise was ‘as little intervention as possible’, he still had regular assistance from the SEP team, in class and in one-on-one sessions.
A friend of mine, also with a child that has Asperger’s and part of the education system herself, then said to me “He has a right to all that. Integration is an entitlement, you know. “ – An entitlement? Ok… but if that is so, you as a parent are still quite challenged to stay behind it all so that the help your child has a right to, does happen, when it’s needed and how it’s needed. “You are your child’s advocate! “ I learned.
Recently, in the context of studies in age care, I read a paragraph on equity : Equity, different to equality seeks to equal the outcome of a process, rather than the simply giving the same amount of service to everybody. Equity takes into account the actual needs of the individual, and the outcome provides a fairer, more equal outcome for all.
“Equality for All” was a virtuous demand at the times of, say, the French revolution, we accept today that actually, we are not all equal. While it’s still a work in progress, we have come a long way with the support of people who are disadvantaged for by ethnicity, gender and disability. Disadvantaged not always because of their actual capacities, but because they are not getting ‘their fair go’ to actually show what they can do.
Like the first cavemen that decided to provide food for a limping former hunter whose idle play with some rocks might then have led to the discovery of flint stones, our society – in theory – recognises the value and potential of those who at first view seemed simply ‘weak’ or incapable.
My son, although he may not be destined to bring the world a similarly ground-breaking discovery as fire, now needs support to cope with the environment in class, certain learning processes, handwriting. He gets more and different help than the others but he is, I am happy to say, now socially and academically stabilized. In return, the children in his class may have learned about difference and acceptance. Integration, I believe, is a two-sided process.
So from guilt over entitlement, from advocacy to equity, I have learnt to see that the outcome is all that matters. Our learning never ends, and I know there is more challenges ahead for both him and me as a parent, but my son will get his “fair go”. I’ll make sure of that.