I read a blog post last night which made me feel so sad. It wasn’t the post itself that upset me, but many of the comments left and reactions by others who seemed very quick to jump to conclusions and make judgements without knowing the facts or even, seemingly, stopping to think of some of the underlying reasons.
The post, with all its comments can be found at ‘mummy tips’ blog
In order to understand my reaction I would like you to read that post and at least some of the comments. I could summarise it here, but, inevitably, any summary of mine would put my own bias on the post, so it would be better to read it yourself.
As a parent of two children, one of whom is on the autistic spectrum and one of whom isn’t. I bring my children up, expecting them to learn right from wrong. I reward them for good behaviour and there are consequences for ‘bad’ behaviour. However, I have learnt, that the ways of doing this for each child are very different. The only consistent rule we have is that whatever reward we offer we must try to make sure that we can follow through. It does mean that we have to think carefully when offering a reward to aim for about whether that reward will be achievable and fair to both children. This is a hugely difficult job just with 2 children. Both in terms of the goals we set for the children and in terms of being able to provide the promised reward. I have to admit that we are also human beings and sometimes we get it wrong. For one reason or another we can’t follow through or not in the detail of what we originally offered.
Inevitably if we cannot provide the reward in the way the children were expecting they are disappointed. There may be any number of reasons why we can’t, but sometimes things don’t work out as planned, so we find some other ways of rewarding them. At the end of the day one of the lessons children do have to learn is that sometimes, for whatever reason, plans change.
Having said that, if my children had been promised a reward at school all year which then didn’t materialise I would be upset on their behalf, particularly for my Son on the autistic spectrum who would find it hard to understand that if he had been told something would happen and then it didn’t. He likes things to be ‘as planned’, but, again, we have to find ways of supporting him to understand that in life things don’t always work to a plan.
I can understand the anger and upset in the post from Mummy Tips about children having worked towards something that was then removed at the last minute. Of course people, parents and children, are upset.
However, what makes me sad are 3 things in particular.
1. Firstly the letter from the Headteacher in the post who openly informs all parents that the trip was cancelled because of complaints from parents and the threat of legal action.
In my view, it was probably not very sensible of a headteacher to be so totally open about the reasons with other parents. By openly stating this in a letter the Head cannot have expected any other reaction than anger and upset and a desire to ‘blame’ the so-called ‘kill-joy’ parents for spoiling everyone’s fun. Whatever the facts and I don’t know them! It really doesn’t seem very professional on any level for a Headteacher to be telling parents that a change is the result of the complaint of one or two others. It stands to reason that this would be divisive.
Sadly, it is probably the way the letter was written and the way the news was shared that has partly led to the sense of anger and bad feeling that exists now. This, surely, cannot be good for anyone, including the children involved, many of whom will pick up the anger and frustration from their parents.
2. Having written the letter in this way, the inevitable result has been for parents and children to be upset and angry. It isn’t the blog post itself that has upset me and many other parents of children with a variety of special needs, but the sheer volume of comments from people who are reacting to the expression of disappointment by blaming a parent and referring to it as sour grapes.
I would argue that very few of the people who commented on that post had children who attended the school. None of us know the full story behind why the trip had to be cancelled.
However it seemed all to easy for many people just to assume it was ‘sour grapes’ on the part of a parent who was disgruntled because their child had been excluded from the trip because the child hadn’t been good enough. Its true, this might have been the case, but I’m guessing that most of the pepole putting in their 2 cents worth in the comment thread knew that for certain. The kind of rhetoric in the comments about parents of ‘little shits’ and complaints about how some children get ‘stars’ for sitting still for five minutes whilst those who sit still all the time are never rewarded.
When my 9yo comes home and talks about children who get house points for sitting still etc. we talk about why their needs are different and why some people are rewarded for different things. She is now beginning to understand that some children struggle to sit still as much as she might struggle with a science problem.
There are very often complicated reasons such as special needs or emotional trauma that might cause a child difficulties with behaviour. It is very rarely because the child is inherantly naughty or the parents are unaware and burying their heads in the sand. OK, this might be the case some of the time, but how do we know? -and if we don’t know is it fair to judge?
There are many other explanations that may have been the reason for a parent being upset. I have read too many blogs and re-counts written by parents of children with learning difficulties, autistic spectrum disorders and other special needs to know that very often they are fighting so hard to get diagnoses for their children and to get appropriate support in schools. Many of these parents are all to aware that their child is unable to sit still, unable to share, might melt-down because they can’t stand the smell of the teacher’s perfume, but don’t know how to explain that the smell hurts. etc.
Before anyone points it out, I don’t know if any of this was the case in this situation, but equally I don’t know that it wasn’t. It therefore seems to me that it is unfair for all those comments to jump on to the bandwagon of decrying the parents and assuming it was because somebody’s ‘little precious’ couldn’t go.
3. Some of the comments that I found particularly distressing were written by teachers. All I can say Is that I hope my beautiful boy will never be taught by a teacher who feels they need to judge his behaviour and label him as ‘bad’ without first taking the trouble to find out the reasons and to work with us as his parents and other relevant professionals to help find solutions. Sadly, I know for a lot of people this is all too much of a reality.
As a parent of a child with asperger’s and as a disability rights campaigner it just makes me realise how far we need to go to try and get people to stop and think before they jump to conclusions.
For me this type of reaction, when it is seen in the bigger picture, is a reflection of a large part of the media and current Government rhetoric which is leading people to believe that disabled people are all fakes and benefit scroungers. This, in fact, is a long way from the truth and this type of attitude is harmful. As a disabled person and parent of disabled children I find it upsetting and frightening.
I know this post won’t be popular with some people and I know I could loose some followers, but I had to write it. If I kept quiet I wouldn’t be be being true to myself or my desire to raise awareness and tackle some of the really engrained attitudes that exist within society to make life for disabled people and families of disabled children so hard.
If you have a mind to find out about some of the difficulties that parents have dealing with the judgements of others please go and read one or more of the following blogs:
If you would like to leave a comment please do, however I would ask that you think about the purpose of this post, which is to question whether we should make judgements without knowing the facts. and about the assumptions made about disabled people and their parents and families. If you have views about the particular case discussed at Mummy-tips perhaps you could leave your views on her site.
Thank you for reading and into the fiery furnace I jump…