Should My Wordless Kid Go to School with Your Normal Child?

If you are fond of cliches, then you might embrace the concept that raising a special needs child can feel like fighting a war. If that's true, however, the metaphor has to accommodate a battle fought on two fronts. We fight the monster itself, whatever it is that internally afflicts our loved ones. Beyond that, however, and perhaps more frustratingly, we fight an exterior war, not against the disabilities themselves but against some vestiges of an earlier age, still very much alive in a society that is tasked with making a place for these people whom it does not always understand.

I write about the issues involved in raising my disabled daughter Schuyler, both in my blog and in my upcoming memoir, and I get a great deal of feedback as a result. I recently heard from an anonymous reader (do I ever hear from any other kind) in response to some things I'd written about mainstreaming special education students in public school. While it's unusually blunt, it nevertheless represents a viewpoint that I've heard many times before, in some form or another.

Every special ed kid costs schools more money. They are incredibly expensive. Wealthy parents get lawyers and game the system for millions, and all the rest of the kids get inadequate educations that still cost more money.

They should be removed from the system and their education funded differently. Public schools should be reserved for the "neurotypical."

That doesn't mean they shouldn't receive funding; it should just come from a different pool of money-health care, probably.

When I think back to my elementary school days, and even later, the thing I don't remember is ever seeing any kids with disabilities in my classes. If you're about my age or older, you probably don't, either. They were sent to different places, special schools or institutions or other "alternative facilities" where they wouldn't interfere with the fine education that the rest of us received.

As with anything, there are extremes to be avoided. I've written in the past about the warehousing of special needs kids and how their curriculum needs to be more specific to their disabilities, rather than just dumping them into the mix and wishing them good luck. But I think it's clear that this kind of individualized education needs to take place within the context of mainstream schooling.

My daughter Schuyler suffers from a rare neurological disorder that requires her to use an electronic speech device in order to communicate. She spends much of her day in a mainstream second grade class, and so does just about every other kid in her Assistive Technology class. Most of them have more serious physical impairments than she does, and cognitively, at this stage it's still anyone's guess for most of them, Schuyler included. And yet, most of them appear to be thriving in their mainstream environments.

I've seen the looks they occasionally get from a few other parents, and I suspect they get the same thing from some teachers as well. And the thing that I am 100% certain of is this: when people advocate sending special needs kids away to "special schools," they are not thinking about the welfare or comfort of those kids. They are thinking of their own.

Yes, special education is expensive. Good education of any kind is, for that matter. But no matter what your politics, nor how extreme your position within those beliefs, a little socialism isn't going to hurt you, and it's going to help Schuyler and millions like her.

This is my opinion, but one in which I believe so strongly that as far as I'm concerned, it is a Big-F Fact: a society that doesn't take care of its own least fortunate, whether that's the poor or the disabled or whoever, is a society that does not deserve to survive. If we as a civilization can't do better than "Public schools should be reserved for the 'neurotypical'", then we deserve nothing less than to implode on our own selfish appetites and our own primping narcissism. I'll be the first one at the barricades when the revolution begins.

If you believe that as a citizen you have a right to decide that every penny of your tax dollars should go to providing your neurotypical child with the best education possible, and that you shouldn't be expected to help fund programs that do not directly benefit your kid, I'm not sure what to say to you.

Well, yes I am. I hope you take a moment out of your self-absorbed life every so often to thank your God (if you have one) that your kid didn't draw that card, the one that twists their genes or gives them an extra chromosome or stirs their brain chemistry or breaks their bodies. As you ponder your own child and your perfect world where they shouldn't have to share funding with or even look at kids who did draw that card, I hope you understand that inside every one of those unfortunate bodies and minds is a human being, one with aspirations and dreams and abilities just as big as your own kid's.

Bigger, probably, because when you have to fight as hard as these kids fight just to be able to sit in a classroom with neurotypical children, you learn not to take those dreams for granted. And as much as most of them would like to be just like everyone else, I'm proud to say that for most of these kids, there's not a thing about them that is "typical."

I lost out by not being able to attend school with special needs students. Mainstreaming critics and their little darlings would be just as diminished as human beings if they had their way. Fortunately, I have no intention of allowing anyone to have our kids "removed from the system." And I am not alone.

Robert Rummel-Hudson's book, Schuyler's Monster: A Father's Journey With His Wordless Daughter will be published in February 2008. He blogs at Schuyler's Monster.