Monday, April 18, 2016

The dark side to disability sensitivity

In theory, it sounds great to be as sensitive to disabilities as we are here in America. In theory, every child gets educated in the least restrictive environment; every child gets what s/he needs; no child is triaged out or given up on.

In practice, the more sensitive we are to disability, the more people end up with disability labels. Labels bring accommodations: extra time on tests, note takers, etc.. But the more people use accommodations, the less they help those in the greatest need of them. The more students get extra time on tests, the less of a relative boost it is to those who most need that extra time. The more students are entitled to scarce resources like note takers, as we’ve discovered, the less likely it is that those who are most in need of those resources will receive them.

Also, the more we broaden challenging disorders like autism to include kids at the milder end of the spectrum, the more our most sought-after special needs programs (e.g., autism summer camps) can favor the easy kids and screen out the hardest ones--and the more the world of disability services can claim growing success in overall outcomes. In lessening the average severity, of course, we also raise the average prognosis--along with false hopes.

Another side of our disability sensitivity is a disabling political correctness: a tendency to deny the severity of impairments. We like to ignore how deeply undermining certain disabilities are of cognitive functioning, and/or how deeply entangled they are with core personality. Thus, we get euphemisms like “have autism” in place of “is autistic" (which neurotypical thought leaders consider dehumanizing), and "have an intellectual disability" (at the same time that no one "has intellectual giftedness"). We also get memes like “normal child trapped inside”--along with sensational recovery stories--bringing more false hopes, along with ill-targeted interventions. And we get ideologies like “every child should be able to meet the same high academic/Common Core standards at the same calendar age-based grade level"--and more false hopes and ill-targeted interventions.

Such is the price we pay for our self-proclaimed, self-congratulatory sensitivity to disabilities.

4 comments:

Adelaide Dupont said...

When I clicked "High Academic Standards" I was sent to my dashboard.

Highlighting this bit:

Another side of our disability sensitivity is a disabling political correctness: a tendency to deny the severity of impairments. We like to ignore how deeply undermining certain disabilities are of cognitive functioning, and/or how deeply entangled they are with core personality.

Have definitely emphasised the "deeply entangled with core personality" part.

With "undermining[...]of cognitive functioning" - that is probably more problematic given what we know and where evidences are.

Giftedness can sometimes be considered [indeed has often been considered, especially in the past] as outside the core personality, as a thing a person does. So I have equalised "disability" and "giftedness" when they are modified by the "intellectual".

Ah - "thought leaders", Katherine! I asked on Grammarly.com about thought leaders and their position in a resume/vita where the references might be. If someone said you were a "thought leader" in your field.

"No child is triaged out or given up on" - I will have to think about that more.

The third paragraph - I do remember the summer camps. And the favouring of the "easy kids" and the screening out of the "hardest ones".

"and the more the world of disability services can claim growing success in overall outcomes".

we also raise the average prognosis--along with false hopes

For 26 years now hope = prognosis = not an easy equation! False hopes for who? False hopes for what?

Anonymous said...

'Thus, we get euphemisms like “have autism” in place of “is autistic"'

Bah. I hope nobody ever tells me "you have nearsightedness". I'd rather be called "four-eyes".

Sheesh.

Katharine Beals said...

We would be better people if, rather than "having thought leaders" we "are thoughtful"--i.e., if more of the thoughts we have come from ourselves rather than from others.

Regarding "having autism" vs. "being autistic" and cognitive issues: http://aut.sagepub.com/content/19/7/859.short

The epithet "four eyes" distorts in the other direction: treating something external to personality (and external to our bodies) as if it were internal.

Karen W said...

http://littlevillagemag.com/autism-acceptance-through-the-lens-of-the-arts-includes-an-upcoming-visual-art-show-at-the-arc-of-southeast-iowa/