I was chatting the other day, with some mothers of children with Down’s syndrome; what was it about Down’s syndrome, we were asked, that everyone, the world and his wife, finds so scary? It’s a question that knocked on the door of my consciousness long before it was posed.
You can find a post on the fear of disability, and Down’s syndrome here.
It doesn’t happen straight away, but once your child is no longer a baby, or a cute toddler, a little one in a too big school uniform, once your boy starts to turn into a man, people’s attitudes change. The miasma of fear hangs around them. A fear of male sexuality. A discomfort with a feminised masculinity; a man who will always need to be helped. A not-quite someone.
You can find a post about Down’s syndrome and manhood here.
And I have written about the judgement on women, on mothers who dare to have a disabled child. Framed as choice, the discourse has more than a whiff of judgement about it, there is a you made your bed now you lie in it stench. I have read about, thought about and written about the blame that is hung around the neck of mothers of disabled children. Too needy. Hysterical. In denial. Awkward. Liars, even.
You can read a post about the inherent sexism present in our schools here.
Mothers of disabled children are set about with rules. In a digital age, we are told we share too much. We place our children in danger; we share stories that are not ours to tell, as if the stories of women, of mothers, are somehow less important, less deserving of a hearing. In an economic time of debt and austerity, we must both pay the bills and stay at home. We have no need of ambition; our fate is to lay ourselves down at the feet of our children, the price we must pay for bringing to birth a disabled baby.
Today, for work (although I’d have read it out of interest), I read a report into the mental health and wellbeing of children with SEND (that’s special educational needs and disabilities) in schools, and, to be honest, I wasn’t shocked. Depressed and angered, yes. Shocked, no. You can read it here.
You see, we know that SEND is intimately connected with poverty and economic and social disadvantage.
We know that having a disabled child puts a strain on adult relationships and many such children grow up with an absent father.
We know that teenage girls are deeply unhappy with the world around them and their place in it, and that this is especially pronounced in girls who don’t, or who feel they don’t fit in.
We know that disabled adults and children face greater levels of bullying than any other group – and disabled girls even more so.
The report paints a picture of a toxic cocktail of powerlessness centred on the experience of women and girls; of individuals caught in the feminised state of disability. No doubt there will be calls for change, for interventions or plans, for government backed initiatives, citing the well known unhappiness of the UK’s children in justification. We have a big problem, requiring a big solution.
Except we don’t, not really. To be kind costs nothing. To be alert to bullying and to help our children and put a stop to the behaviour that has blighted the lives of so many costs little; some thought, some understanding, maybe a bit of training and a heap of commitment. Challenging workplaces and demanding societal support for families, so that caring is shared, not carried by one person, might take a bit more, but still.
Without that commitment to change, when you look at it, when you really look at it, who wouldn’t be afraid?