As parents of kids with autism, we spend a lot of time talking about our children’s rights. “It’s my son’s right to a free and appropriate education.” “It’s my daughter’s right to be fully included in a general education class.” “Be sure you get a lawyer so the school doesn’t trample your child’s rights.” Search the internet for the words “autism” and “rights” and you’ll be flooded with results. We spend a lot of bandwidth learning about our children’s rights and how to protect them, as we should. But why do we rarely hear parents of autistic children talk about the rights of kids who don’t have disabilities?
For instance, I’ve heard parents say, “My child has difficulties with auditory processing, so he needs assistive technology.” But I’ve never heard, “My child screams so much in the classroom that the other students can’t hear the teacher and it’s affecting their education.”
Frequently parents tell me, “The school needs to implement a behavior plan so my child learns how to use his words instead of hitting.” Only twice have I heard, “How can we stop my child from hitting other kids? They shouldn’t be afraid to come to school.”
I’ve heard, “The teacher isn’t helping my child enough,” but not, “If my child is taking up 35% of the teacher’s time, how are the other children getting the attention they need?”
I’ve even seen, “My child has special needs. She should be on the cheerleading squad even if she isn’t as good as the other girls.” I don’t think that mom ever thought, “There are only six cheerleaders at our school. If I insist my daughter is on the team, is she depriving another girl who deserves to be there because of her abilities?”
Note that I’m not talking about when the other kids in a classroom have to suffer inconveniences so that our children can be there. Not being able to take a peanut butter sandwich to school because another child might die is not a huge sacrifice. No one has the right to put someone’s life in danger just because their parents can’t figure out something else to put in their lunchbox. If a child disrupts the classroom occasionally or the disruptions are mild and manageable, the rest of the students can learn to ignore it and move on. No, what I’m talking about is when the accommodation of our children means other kids are harmed.
The rights of individuals with disabilities are precious, necessary and just as unalienable as those of people without disabilities. We fought long and hard to ensure that those with special needs have as equal access to the benefits of our society as we can provide. If we parents don’t defend the rights of our disabled children, our children will lose out.
But should other people’s children be made to suffer so that our children benefit? Are children with disabilities the only ones who have rights? Is one six year old less of a person than another?
Parents of typical children are expanding their viewpoints and insisting that all children are important, valuable and to be protected, even those with disabilities. Surely, we parents of kids with special needs can do the same.
PS. If you think this post is helpful, pass it on to someone else.