What am I?
I will die at least 15 years younger than you will.
Long before that, I will be twice as likely to be bullied at primary school.
I will be nine times more likely to receive a fixed-term exclusion from school
I will be nine times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion than you.
Once I've left school I will be seven times less likely to work than you.
If I am lucky enough to work, it will probably be part-time, it will probably be poorly paid.
I am twice as likely to live in poverty than you.
I am over four times more likely to have mental health problems as a child.
I am a child with learning difficulties.
Extracted from Jarlaith O'Brien, Don't Send Him in Tomorrow, Independent Thinking Press.
Let us describe a young person that we know.
He is 13. A happy lively young man who loves sport (cricket, football, motor racing, darts ...) and has a great sense of fun. He has a wicked sense of humour and laughs a lot. He enjoys playing games on the XBox, and spending family time watching movies or playing chess, draughts or Monopoly. He is of average intelligence and enjoys reading and history. He can stand his own with adults debating about topics of interest such as World Wars I and II, or dinosaurs and environmental issues. At every parents evening, all his teachers comment on what a lovely lad he is, the only boy who greets them when he arrives for class and wishes them a good day when he leaves, and that he tries hard. They all say that he needs to improve his social skills and to work better in teams.
He is currently not in school as he is suffering from a stress disorder. He describes all the children at his school as being 'mean and barbaric'. They swear, leave the toilets in a complete mess, they tease him, bully him, deliberately make the noises that his sensitivities cannot cope with. He has completely lost faith with all adults in the school as they have serially let him down and not protected him. Before his illness became too much, he would spend his lunch times locked in a toilet as being the only safe place that he could find.
He is perhaps the epitome of what it means to be socially excluded. His only social connections are his family. And they are suffering badly from the stress of the situation.
Is he disabled? He is certainly registered disabled as he has a diagnosis of autism. His autism certainly 'prevents him from living a full, normal, life or from holding a gainful job' and so by definition he is disabled. But he is only disabled due to the acts of others. The intolerance of difference, the ignorance of his condition, the persistence that the only solution for him is to 'fit' with mainstream society and values - even if those values are worse than his own. He doesn't swear, cheat, lie or steal, and won't deliberately hurt another. If he accidentally hurts someone he will apologise and he forgives immediately if an apology is offered.
The professionals that he sees want to get him back into school. When they ask him what it would take, he is very clear. 'Get rid of all the other children'. And there lies the problem. The only thing that will provide relief for his disability is the removal of the effects of others. The effects of those normal children that he is supposed to be like. To help people like this boy we must focus on the social exclusion that defines his existence. This means providing a social environment in which he feels safe and valued, and working with the outside social environment to make it realise that IT IS THE CAUSE OF HIS PROBLEMS rather than the solution.