Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  The special needs juggernaut

My 10-year-old daughter goes to a school that has started inducting disabled children in classes. While some of us welcome this development, there are quite a few parents who feel that the whole class will be slowed down to accommodate a particular child’s special needs.

Some children are taking it in the right spirit but others are already beginning to voice opinions and reservations (some fed by the parents). There are some distressing “in-the-middle" attitudes too, with children saying things like, “Let’s be kind, we have to be kind, poor things," etc. What can we parents do to offer the right perspective?

Any school that decides to be disability-inclusive must have a plan on how to induct the children. Healthy and open debate needs to be encouraged, fears allayed, and the message put out clearly that the school believes fully in what it is doing. Instead of the rumblings, misgivings and idle speculation about how things will be once the disabled children are integrated into the class, the parent-teachers association needs to discuss all this. There are consultants and activists in the field of disability who would be happy, willing and effective in talking to parents, teachers and students. All this needs to be put in place.

At the individual level, at home, you can simply state what you believe in: If you believe that education and personal progress is not a matter of “going fast", and that one must not be anxious about being “slowed down" by including people with special needs, you will have to find different age-appropriate ways to communicate this to your child and her friends, as well as to any other parent who may have misgivings but is open to discussion.

The “poor things" and “charitable" line of reasoning is a common stance, abhorrent to many. But in a way it is a beginning, at least better than the “why should we be burdened by them" kind of attitude.

Do find simple case studies, storybooks in which the protagonist may be a disabled child, and other such material that may help your child enter the frame of reference of disabled children and see them as children first, and disabled later.

Taking a strident stand in schools tends to polarize opinions. So if you feel it’s a good development for your school, and for society in general, you should avoid the “debate" mode and take a realistic look at the challenges and how they can be tackled. This sends the best message to children who are still figuring out how to respond to a development of this kind.

Gouri Dange is the author of More ABCs Of Parenting and ABCs Of Parenting.

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