A recent Guardian Roundtable touched on an interesting subject for those of us who are responsible for children with learning difficulties. The article was written, sourced and published in the UK but I believe it applies everywhere in the world where there are children with learning difficulties.
Just 6.4% of people with learning disabilities are in paid employment and that stark statistic – and the shocking waste of financial (and human) resources behind it – formed the backdrop for a recent Guardian roundtable discussion.
This issue has its root, I believe, in the way we are led to think about our children from birth:
When it comes to setting expectations for a child with learning disabilities, things can start to go wrong the moment they are born. The roundtable heard how health staff use their “breaking bad news” training to counsel parents, leaving them with the impression that there’s not much incentive to look forward to the future.
I remember the day we received the news that our child was autistic with profound learning difficulties. There were 3 calm staff members and a box of tissues on the table. By the time we left, the tissues had been used – and although the staff were gentle, kind and wonderful people who clearly were fond of our child – they too fell into that trap of ‘breaking bad news’ mode. A mode that, by its very tenor, fulfills the expectation of _being_ bad news.
The truth is, in my opinion, that with a little effort from health care agencies we can move from:
staff at one special school who, when the issue of employment was raised, replied: “That’s not for our kids.”
to a de facto position as espoused by agencies like Remploy who are the UK’s leading provider of employment services to people with disabilities.
But we’re not anywhere near that yet. In my own experience too many parents of people with special needs are content to wallow in the comfort of ‘putting it off’ – their children are still young. But consider this – we are far longer a time adults than we are children. Our children need to learn how to function in the world. This won’t be brought about by sham cures and ideaslistic fights against a strawman army. Neither will it be brought about by those who insist on misrepresenting the nature of what autism is to all rather than some.
One speaker summed up the fundamental question underpinning the whole debate: “Do we believe that people with learning disabilities and their families are worth it?”
Are they worth the upheaval and political effort it would take to transform a system that often fails them when it come to finding work?
In any society that claims to be fair, children with learning disabilities surely deserve the same life chances as other young people, the roundtable heard. They should be encouraged to have ambition