By Alex Linker, Students with Disabilities Officer
Special education. We use this term to refer to the specialist education we provide certain children with disability (generally cognitive and/or developmental). But what should it actually involve?
Pauline Hanson thinks the education of children with disability should happen behind closed doors, away from the “normal” kids, to reduce “the loss for our other [abled] kids”, but people with disability, and their parents, families, and carers, wholeheartedly disagree.
Every student is entitled to appropriate education, whatever that may look like for them.
Yes, children with disability may need specialist education. But a segregated classroom doesn’t automatically mean these students are getting the appropriate level of education. Noa Zulman spoke about her younger sister’s experiences in a “learning support” classroom, explaining how “she’s taught Maths by sports teachers who have no special ed qualifications… [and] is infantalized and treated like a four year old, not a fourteen year old.”
This is not specialised education to help Zulman’s sister, who has Down Syndrome, thrive; it’s a way to do as Pauline Hanson suggested, reducing “disruption” to abled students. Zulman says this “only further entrenches stigmatisation and ostracisation of children with disabilities.”
By keeping children with disability segregated, we’re actually disadvantaging the abled children Hanson and co want to “protect”, depriving them of the learning experience of interacting with someone different from themselves at an early age.
Not all children with disability are able to integrate into regular classrooms, and sometimes the support they would require to do so is not available. This is a fault of the system and, in an optimal world, would not be a barrier to the education of children with disability.
Children with disability might also require specialised education to learn certain skills, such as cooking and other everyday activities.
But not all children can be neatly labelled into a discrete category on the basis of their education needs – students may have disability, as well as being gifted. Not all children with disability are the same, and each student should be managed on a case-by-case basis.
A certain diagnosis, such as Hanson’s referenced autism, must not preclude a child from access to appropriate education.
We cannot “other” children with disability.