Two things have made me want to write this post. First Nancy Gedge wrote about how discouraging it is to realise how little many teachers really know and understand about teaching children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.
My heart sank with hers. What is so obvious to me, and has been since my school days as a pupil volunteering at our nearby special school, is just not even considered by large groups of teachers or church congregations. It’s why so many children are struggling in schools. Teaching SEND children is given so little attention in teacher training that so many teachers are ill-equipped to support them in their classes. It’s not that teachers don’t want to, but they need adequate training to do so. Children and adults with disabilities are around 20% of our society. Yes, many of those disabilties are hidden, not obvious, such as ASD or ADHD, or dyslexia or dyspraxia. And so many are not diagnosed and so teachers don’t know what their needs are and they are labelled as ‘naughty’ instead. But we judge and we judge and we make people’s lives much much harder than the need to be because on top of dealing with a disability, they are having to fight for recognition, support and understanding. They are dealing with judgement and verbal or social abuse on a daily bases.
I need to be fair. There are lots of issues in this world for which I am ignorant about. I am learning every day and trying to put what I learn about people into practice. However, knowing what’s ‘their fault’ seems to be our national obsession. Our media wants to guide our judgements, whether it’s on politicians or warring factions, or our judgements about people with disabilities. Currently they are either ‘heros’ (paralympians etc) or scroungers (defrauding the welfare state). Grrrrrrrr, we cannot let those extremes guide our judgements. Both those views make people with disabilities have to ‘prove’ their worth.
We have to change our attitudes and recognise that children and adults with disabilities are people – with worth as they are, with feelings, with hopes and fears and searching for faith and meaning in this world alongside everyone else.
Second, I read this from Huffington Post about other people being the biggest problem parents of children with additional needs face. This is the truth reality I hear from most of the parents I work with and who are my friends. Other people are so insensitive, so cruel at times just by the patronising things they say or the way they ‘tut’ (or suggest that all the child needs is a good hiding!). Being fearful of disability has no place in our society but it’s there. The adults with learning disabilities I know, face daily verbal abuse, just walking around our sleepy little town. Being called ‘idiot’ ‘mong’ or ‘retard’ isn’t unusual.
So, as this blog is a message to churches (oh! I so hope someone is listening – like Nancy, it feels like an echo chamber sometimes) PLEASE read this out to your congregations! Please recognise the judgements and abuse children, families and adults with disabilities face every day and work hard to first open your own eyes. Learn about disability, listen to people who can tell you what it’s really like. Make people with disability feel welcome and respected in your church. DO something differently and don’t use ignorance as your excuse. Face the fears and prejudices we have and repent. Start a new ministry that includes everyone and welcomes everyone. Be challenged and stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Walk with those who face trouble, judgement, abuse and rejection every day. Fill your church with people of all abilities and let their faith and gifts be recognised and used in your ministries.
To my friends who have children with disabilities, who face the judgements of others every day, and to my friends with disabilities who have known this since their own childhood. May you forgive us and may God give you a rightful place in his church family. I love you lots. Xxxx