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Special education needs and the UK election

Posted in Attitudes to disability, Educational research, Learning disability, Politics by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on April 21, 2010

Having stuck my beak into the US election, it’s funny that I don’t feel the same need to blog about the current UK election campaign in the context of Down’s syndrome and special needs (maybe because there aren’t such, ahem, polarizing characters in the UK).

Anyway, from The Guardian, by way of the Down’s Syndrome Association, here’s how the three major parties compare on attitudes to Special Education Needs (SEN):

Labour

“Parents of children with special educational needs would have the right to a choice of school, like other parents. Ofsted, the children’s inspectorate, would be given responsibility for inspecting schools on SEN, information for parents would be improved and the tribunal process made easier, so that children with SEN and disabilities can access the auxiliary aids they need in schools. Other intiativies already under way will remain, such as the Achievement for All pilots to improve outcomes for children with SEN, funding for 4,000 additional teachers to undertake specialist dyslexia training by 2011, the requirement for SEN co-ordinators to have qualified teacher status by September, and the review of the supply of those teaching children with profound and multiple learning disabilities.”

Conservative

“On special educational needs, the Tories would impose a moratorium on the “ideologically driven” closure of special schools, ending the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools.”

Liberal Democrats

“Children would take a diagnostic assessment when they start school. The assessment would look at reading, comprehension, numeracy, communication and writing skills. The results would enable teachers to identify any extra support needed. The Lib Dems would also end the policy of trying to reduce the number of children educated in special schools and instead would encourage the co-location of special schools alongside mainstream schools. For those educated in mainstream schools, part of the extra £2.5bn investment would go to help teachers provide more individual support, one-to-one tuition and reading or maths recovery. Teacher training and the continuous professional development of teachers would also be improved to ensure that all teachers learn how to recognise SEN and provide appropriate support.”

One of those stands out for me, although not for the right reasons.

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Break down every wall you can

Posted in Attitudes to disability, Language by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on February 24, 2010

Mother Superior jumped the gun

Posted in Attitudes to disability, Language by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on February 19, 2010

Sarah Palin, the self-appointed Mother Superior of Down’s syndrome, has been at it again, this time describing an episode of Family Guy featuring a character with Down’s syndrome that made reference to being her daughter as “another kick in the gut”.

I haven’t seen the Family Guy episode, it has not aired in the UK yet as far as I’m aware, but I have watched the clips on YouTube and I just don’t get what Palin is upset about.

So a character with Down’s syndrome states that her mother is the former governor of Alaska – big deal. How is that insulting to people with Down’s syndrome, or Trig or Sarah Palin? Am I missing something here? Seriously, I fail to see how this is mocking Trig Palin or in any way damaging to people with special needs, and I’ve just watched Palin trying to explain it herself

Even the Down syndrome girl song is extremely tame by Family Guy standards, and as Logan at Disposable writes, from what I have seen the show pretty much normalised Down’s syndrome.

Palin’s criticism appears to suggest that featuring a character with Down’s syndrome on this sort of show is, by definition, offensive (unless it is satire of course), while some of the reports supporting Palin’s view also appear to have jumped to conclusions.

“Comedic mimicry of retarded people is obnoxious,” states the Gawker. Which is true except, there’s that R word again, and besides – where was the mimicry?

The character in question was played by Andrea Fay Friedman – an actress with Down’s syndrome, who had this to say: “I thought the line was very funny. I think the word is ‘sarcasm.'”

Friedman also said this:

“In my family we think laughing is good. My parents raised me to have a sense of humor and to live a normal life. My mother did not carry me around under her arm like a loaf of French bread the way former Gov. Palin carries her son Trig around, looking for sympathy and votes.”

Arf! Now that is a kick in the gut.

Sarah Palin is a f—ing hypocrite

Posted in Attitudes to disability, Language, Politics by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on February 8, 2010

Rahm Emanuel has been rightly criticized for his description of liberals activists as “f—ing retarded”, including a call from Sarah Palin for him to be fired as White House chief of staff.

“Just as we’d be appalled if any public figure of Rahm’s stature ever used the “N-word” or other such inappropriate language, Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities — and the people who love them — is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking.”

That’s just what you’d expect when it comes to the self-styled “friend and advocate” of special-needs families. Of course the fact that Emanuel’s comment enabled Palin to criticize her political opponents had nothing to do with it.

Palin also appeared to have taken a dim view of Rush Limbaugh’s repeated use of the word “retard” in discussing the Emanuel controversy on his radio show.

Here’s some edited highlights of Limbaugh’s “satire” for those that missed it. The full transcript is also available.

  • “But our politically correct society is acting like some giant insult’s taken place by calling a bunch of people who are “retards,” “retards.””
  • “So now there’s going to be a meeting, there’s going to be a “Retard” Summit at the White House.”
  • “Obama is taking a short bus, little yellow bus full of “retards” — “F-ing retards” — to Las Vegas for the weekend.”
  • Limbaugh was clearly taking the opportunity to draw attention to the inappropriate language used by Emanuel, but his obvious revelry in doing so suggests, and the following discussion with a caller to the show demonstrates, that he simply does not get it.

    CALLER: The reason they were so offensive is because by using the term “retarded” or “retards” as a term of opprobrium or derision is insulting to all persons with mental disability… I just felt as though your comment, it seemed to me to underline the idea that the insult was to the Democrats, and it’s not, the insult is to the people with disabilities.

    RUSH: No, no, no. I know the insult is to retarded people but those are not my words.

    Either way, as Palin’s spokesperson stated “it doesn’t matter who says the “r” word: it should no longer be part of our lexicon”.

    Except if the person who says its happens to be an influential opinion leader in the conservative movement, it would seem. “Rush Limbaugh was using satire,” said Down’s syndrome’s very own “Mother Superior” on Sunday.

    “I didn’t hear Rush Limbaugh calling a group of people whom he did not agree with “f’ing retards.” And we did know that Rahm Emanuel — it’s been reported — did say that. There’s a big difference there.”

    She’s right, there is a big difference between someone using an off-hand remark, albeit a highly inappropriate one, in a private conversation and then apologizing for doing so, and someone repeatedly using a phrase they apparently understand to be offensive in order to score cheap political points.

    Getting it wrong and telling it right

    Posted in Attitudes to disability, Campaigns, Personal, Screening by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on January 2, 2010

    My older sister is currently expecting her second child. Being a few years older, and therefore statistically more likely to have a child with Down’s syndrome, and also having seen from our experience that it pays to be prepared, she is likely to have a combined test in the coming weeks to assess the possibility that my new niece or nephew has DS.

    However, this post isn’t about my sister or the next addition to our family. Its about the health care “professional” who told my sister that she shouldn’t be overly concerned there is a history of Down’s syndrome in the family since the link is via her brother (me) and Down’s syndrome “is passed down the mother’s side”.

    The ignorance revealed in that statement is staggering. To be clear, Down’s syndrome can be the result of inheritance from one of the parents (who would not show any signs of chromosomal abnormality) but that form of translocation occurs in only 1/3 of 4% of cases of Down’s syndrome, and in any case can be inherited from either the father or the mother.

    This information itself would only be relevant in my sister’s case if G had Translocation Down’s syndrome, which he doesn’t. But then it sounds like the health care worker concerned is having trouble with the basics, let alone the difference between Trisomy 21, Translocation and Mosaic Down’s syndrome.

    It is frightening to think that someone lacking a basic understanding of Down’s syndrome is providing advice to expectant couples.

    It is also a timely reminder that the Down’s Syndrome Association’s Tell it Right campaign involves a petition to the UK Prime Minister to provide high quality information in the diagnosis of Down’s syndrome. For those in the UK there are just five days left to sign the petition.

    “He’s a little Down’s boy isn’t he?”

    Posted in Attitudes to disability, Personal by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on December 30, 2009

    Since we received the diagnosis that G would be born with Down’s syndrome one of the things I have feared most, to be completely honest, is the comments that would be made by complete strangers. I have read and heard some horrendous stories of strangers feeling the need to pass comment on the fact that a child has Down’s syndrome – offering the parent pity or unwelcome advice (or insults).

    It took 15 months, but recently while out Christmas shopping I had my first experience of someone commenting on the fact that G has Down’s syndrome. Not just anyone, but the type of complete stranger I fear most: the kindly old lady (KOL).

    I am used to be stopped by KOLs while out shopping since they are naturally attracted to babies/children and their favourite variety is one with ginger hair. They swarm around J’s “orange hair” (as he like’s to call it) like bees around honey.

    Attracted as usual to J’s personal Belisha beacon this particular KOL quickly moved on to G and his lack of gingerness before surprising me by asking “he’s a little Down’s boy isn’t he?”

    The question was so matter-of-fact that I could only respond in the same way. “Yes he is,” I replied.

    The KOL told me all about the group of teenagers with Down’s syndrome that goes to her local swimming pool and “really enjoy themselves” (a bit random, a bit patronising but she meant well and I was still too disarmed by the fact that I was talking to a complete stranger about Down’s syndrome to do anything other than smile and nod).

    “So he’ll have a few challenges when he’s older,” she continued, before adding something about how he didn’t seem too badly effected. I don’t really remember what I offered in response to that. Again her tone was so matter-of-fact that the comment seemed entirely reasonable thing to say.

    So that was my first experience of discussing the fact that G has Down’s syndrome with a complete stranger in public. Something tells me it won’t be our last. Especially if we keep going shopping with J.

    Survey to help new parents adjust to Down’s syndrome diagnosis

    Posted in Attitudes to disability, Support services by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on December 16, 2009

    “Texas Tech University and Kansas State University researchers are seeking participants in an online survey to help develop support information and resources for parents of children with Down syndrome and the professionals who work with them” reports newswise.

    The survey is available here and doesn’t take long to complete, depending on how much information you feel like sharing.

    Researchers hope to gather information on how parents coped with their child’s diagnosis and how it impacted their relationship and outlook on the future in order to “pinpoint common practices in families who have successfully adjusted to a Down syndrome diagnosis”.

    Recent news and views

    Posted in Attitudes to disability, Learning disability, Screening, Therapeutic treatments by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on November 24, 2009

    We’ve been really busty with various work, home, and illness-related issues recently. Here’s some recent news stories I haven’t had time to blog about:

  • Athletes with intellectual disabilities to compete in 2012 Paralympics – The Times
  • Great news. It’s about time intellectually disabled athletes stopped being punished for the crimes of the intellectually able but morally corrupt.

  • Mentally disabled actors are victims of modern ‘blacking-up’, says campaigner – The Guardian
  • An interesting perspective, and one that I have some sympathy for.

  • Drive to improve pregnancy scans for Down’s syndrome – Daily Mail
  • “Guidelines for scans that assess the risk of Down’s syndrome in later pregnancy are being drawn up in an attempt to improve their accuracy.” Good. See here and here for previous posts about the importance of accuracy.

  • Sarah Palin: my life with a Down’s syndrome child – The Times
  • An interesting read, whatever you might think about her.

  • Progress towards possible Down’s syndrome treatment – BUPA and numerous other sources
    “Medicines that target specific nerve cells in the brain could reverse poor mental function in people with Down’s syndrome, according to new research.”

  • Raoef Mamedov’s Last Supper

    Posted in Attitudes to disability, Media by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on November 11, 2009

    Raoef_Mamedov-The_Last_Supper_Down_Syndrome_Full_Large
    Click the picture for the full size version.

    A few months ago I stumbled across a blog post about a depiction of The Last Supper by Russian artist Raoef Mamedov. I was recently reminded of it by a not-so eloquent discussion and decided to post it here.

    It is a really fascinating work of art, although there are some not-so-hidden messages that are not entirely positive in terms of attitudes to disability and religion. All in all though I find it equally captivating and challenging.

    Make of it what you will.

    In defence of Simple Jack

    Posted in Attitudes to disability, Media by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on November 10, 2009

    Amid the furore against Tropic Thunder and the film-within-a-film Simple Jack last year I maintained that “the protesters against Tropic Thunder appear to be either misunderstanding or willfully ignoring the fact that Tropic Thunder is a satire in order to get their point across”.

    In Simple Jack, Stiller’s character from Tropic Thunder tries to prove he is a serious actor by playing a disabled character. David Tolleson (executive director of the National Down Syndrome Congress) described the portrayal as “shockingly awful”, missing the fact that that was, in fact, the point.

    The point of Simple Jack was to lampoon vacuous actors who see playing a character with disability as proving their credentials as an artist.

    With that in mind, I draw your attention to this article about Filipino actress Niña Jose. I had never heard of Jose before reading this article, nor do I expect to again.

    From the article we learn two key things about Jose:

    • “My boobs are real.”

    and

    • “I just don’t [want] to limit myself to sexy roles. My dream role? I want to play someone who [has] Down’s syndrome. Super challenging.”

    I don’t think I need to add anything else at this juncture.