Not What I Had Planned

PicMonkey Collage1Yesterday my six-year-old daughter told me that I am lazy and useless. Her rationale was that Daddy goes to work and earns a living and Mummy just doesn’t do anything but stay home. Now, she isn’t being rude or disrespectful. She is just pointing out a truism as she sees it and many times what we least want to hear about ourselves comes out of the mouths of babes. It can be argued that I could have used this as an opportunity to tell her that its because Mum stays at home that she gets to school on time, has clean clothes to wear, healthy home-cooked food to eat etc. However, I firmly believe all parents, whether working or not, do this for their children. And secondly, you should not expect your child to be beholden to you for parenting them. After all it was our choice to have them.

So after going through about twenty hours of self-shame and thinking that I had failed in my duty to provide my daughter with a kick-ass role model mum (and being secretly relieved that what she saw was ‘lazy and useless’ and not ‘perpetually consumed with worry’), I decided to write a letter to her future self:

Dear Miss H, I am sorry that when you were six, you thought that I was a lazy and useless person because I didn’t have a job. I would like you to know this was not what I had a planned. I would like you to know that once I went to one of the best universities and finished second in my class. I not only had a job, I had a career and was going to go places. I was raised in a family where all women worked. My own mother, your Amma, worked through four pregnancies and never took a break. I was raised around kick-ass career women and had every plan of carrying on with this family tradition.

Once you and your brother were old enough for daycare I did go back to work part-time. I finished a post-grad degree while making sure that I could be there for all your school events, getting you to all your music/gym/swim classes, and supervising your homework. I did all this because I could be both a career woman and a good mum. I knew that I could successfully juggle both roles without stinting.

However, then came a time when we started realising that our family was not exactly heading on the path we had planned out. That things were not the perfect linearity we had imagined. That our family’s needs required one parent to be a parent full time, 24/7. So we made the choice to put the whole career-woman/mum thingamajig on the back burner. I am sorry that this happened when you were just beginning to work out how the world goes round: get an education, get a job, build a career, earn money, be a success la-di-da. And I am sorry that at this point in your life I could not provide you with the role model I always wanted to, and the one that all the women in my family provided to me.

What I need you know, and I hope you’re reading this at an age where you can understand this, that this choice was not in anyway a sacrifice on my part. I need you to know that when you make the decision to love someone, really truly LOVE someone, you make the decision to give them your all. And if at some point one of those you love fiercely need you, you give up your chosen course, you change your best laid plans, and you do it willingly and happily without holding even a speck of a grudge in the darkest part of your heart. Because that is what family is. I may not have been able to show you that you can do it all, but if I can show you the importance of family then it’s a crucial life lesson learnt.

Dear Teacher

I recently came across this article http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jul/21/teacher-parents-report-racism-school-onesie

and it really irked me. So here’ s an open letter to the author. (Disclaimer: I have had an overall positive experience with my children’s teacher and I am pretty sure that most of the teachers I know personally and through my children will be appalled by many of the things in this article).

Dear Teacher, thank you for the sanctimonious little piece you have put out there. It showcases everything that is wrong with the vocation of teaching today. I just really hope that you can your colleagues who share these views are in a minority and that you are never put in charge of my child’s learning.

Dear Teacher, in our house we don’t censor books. We don’t restrict our children’s imagination to a National Curriculum approved list. If our child wants to read a book with language and/or graphic content we allow them to make that choice. Because in our home we believe that fostering independence in a crucial part of raising a responsible member of society. We believe in the importance of children being allowed the opportunity to make a conscious choice not to use bad language or, as an extreme, re-enact an ax murdering spree a la Stephan King in the primary school playground. Believe us parents when we say that reading what may be deemed inappropriate material has hardly ever created an abuse hurling, aggressive, out-of-control little person. Our children are being raised in a home where banned books are stacked within reach of grubby little hands. Gasp, shock, horror.

Dear Teacher, in my head I have a few choice adjectives for your clique in the staffroom who laughed at my “grammatical howlers” pined up and highlighted to delight everyone. However, since I was raised and not dragged I have the decency to keep my adjectives in my head. I will say this much: have you considered that those ‘howlers’ might have been written by a dyslexic parent who struggles with these little bits of communication everyday. Whose self-esteem has been seriously bruised by the likes of you who have chosen to bully them for their disability? Who worry daily that they may have passed on their dyslexia to their child? Who shudder at the thought of you and your colleague laughing at, highlighting, and pinning up their child’s ‘howlers’, afraid that the cycle of classroom psychological abuse is still unbroken? Dear Teacher, in all your smugness have you considered that these ‘howlers’ might have been painstakingly and haltingly penned by a person who is new to English. For whom English might be second, nay a third language. Dare I ask how many language can you speak and write with near native fluency? In case no one else told you Dear Teacher, here is a precious nugget of information: the days of the Empire are long over.

Dear Teacher, I am sorry my fluffy pink onesie offended you. I am so sorry I did not wear my hundred-pound-fifties-inspired-Boden frock for school drop off. Could be one of several reason I turned up in my onesie. My child’s younger sibling was sick all night. I have dragged myself out and just about managed to get your pupil, my other child, dressed, fed, and ready for drop off. Maybe, Dear Teacher, we are having a Dress-Your-Mum week at home and my children think that Mum in a fluffy onesie is just the ticket. And guess what, their friends who are not yet as jaded and cynical as you are, think that me in my fluffy pink onesie is pretty darned cool. And maybe, just maybe, Dear Teacher, we are one of those homes where we don’t give a rat’s behind about what people like you think of how we chose to present ourselves to the world at large. Horrific isn’t it that we are raising our children in a home where we encourage an expression of their creativity through their dress, where we want them to have the utmost comfort with their own bodies, where we don’t want them shamed and bullied into a socially acceptable body and attire type. If my onesie offends your delicate sensibilities, deal with it. How’s that for a target?

I can go on Dear Teacher, but I would like to end this by asking you this: when did this become about you versus us? When you chose this profession were you aware that this was a vocation, a life-long calling? Do you know that amount of trust we have had to place in you every single morning when we leave our children in your care? Just that should be a humbling thought for you. When we left our child in your care we silently signed a contract with you that you will become an invisible but indelible part of our family. Your presence is there at our dinner table, at bedtime, on our family holidays. Because our child talks about you sometimes with humour, sometimes with reverence, almost everyday. Rarely we see our child talk about you with love and our hearts swell with joy and so much gratitude for you. We never want that day in our homes where our child talks about you with anger, with fear. Here’s a target for next year, Dear Teacher: please realise we are not in a war. We are equal partners in moulding a child’s personality. We have an immense responsibility to not this one child but humanity. And unless we find a common ground, find a way to respect each other, our crucial partnership will fall apart. And if that happens, not just one child will fail by falling through the cracks, it will have a knock on effect on society.

The Next (HUGE) Adventure

So I am coming back to my much neglected self-reflection corner/blog after a pretty long absence. But its been a busy, busy, and very momentous few weeks. So here is what went on:

H and I had a plan. We called it our worst-case-scenario, the most drastic of measures, the last fallback option etc. But as we headed in June and still not a single school where we would care to educate our child had a place for Aiden, we were willing to be more open minded, cast a wider net etc. I was also lucky enough to find a few support groups online, and was able to connect with many parents of neuro-diverse children through this blog. This allowed us to see that the range of options and the type of support available for such children in certain parts of the world is quite profound. We started a rather aggressive research project, got Aiden’s therapists, his teachers, and a few trusted friends and family members involved in the process. By June we had a list of four schools we wanted to visit. Aiden’s reports were emailed, appointments and visits were set up, and a rather ambitious itinerary was chalked up. A long-ish plane and train ride later we were in sunny, albeit rather frigid, seaside setting. H and I were confident that we will have the right school for Aiden at the end of a week. Well we were in for a bit of a surprise.

The first school we visited was set in 600-acres of woodland, part of which had been converted in to a Forest School. There is a lot of fresh, evidence based research that indicates that Forest Schools are wonderful in plugging up the emotional, social, and communicative deficits in young children. The staff was amazing. They said all the right things: “Aiden doesn’t have anything we have not seen and dealt with before”, “We have had a number of children with similar issues and with support they have flourished”, “Our staff is fully trained to provide the right type of learning environment”. We were elated, these were things we had never dreamt of hearing in our current home city. There was this general feeling that Aiden is no extraordinary outlier and there was no need to hedge and sugar coat the extent of his needs. So far so good. But then we had a rather unexpected twist of events in the person of assertive Little Miss H.

An Aside: Miss H is a very interesting child. She is 6 going on 33. That has been her preferred age for a while now. Extraordinarily clever, somewhat socially awkward, supremely chatty with no social filters, and very very opinionated and stubborn. I will have to confess this lovely trait she gets from her mother. Sigh. We cant all be perfect now. Miss H has got certain ideas that are set in stone. One of them is that she will finish KS2 in her current primary school. And no, you cannot change this fact. We had been worried about how she will take the prospect of such a huge change. I, with my usual bluster, had decided that she will just have to get on with it. Mr H was more sensitive to her emotional state (as always, he’s much better tuned to the children’s emotional needs).

So the curveball we got thrown was rather severe: Miss H refused to take a tour of the school, refused all attempts by the lovely teachers to involve her in the classroom, refused to be excited about anything and everything. Scarily she was not in a sulk. She was in her 33-year-old-woman mode: matter of fact and decisive. Sat herself down on a bench with her Daddy and declared she’s going back home, staying in her current school till Year 6, living with her Dad. And if Aiden has needs that cant be met at home, well he can bloody well come to this forest school place with Mummy, Herself not having any of it, thank you very much. Now these reasons, from her perspective, are perfect valid and legitimate. You just never want to be that parent who had to make a decision that may involve putting the well being of one child over that of their sibling(s).

It was a somber experience. We might find a great school but that was not the end of the challenge. We had underestimated the difficulty Miss H would face making such a big move. We, more-so I, had overlooked her needs, both social and academic. The forest school was great for Aiden, bang on target. But it was not the right place for Miss H. And, yes, she had to have a say in this matter. We don’t exactly own her opinions.

The next day a much subdued pair of us made our way to School #2. This had been our top pick and we were quietly nudging Fate to lend us a hand that morning. We had a long chat with the Headmaster and the Head of SEN. They were very good with engaging and busying two rather antsy children while the grown ups had a boring, acronym laden, serious talk. The Headmaster is an energetic, youngish person who is clearly passionate about his school and has a very clear idea of what early education should be: individualised to the child’s needs. This school had an IEP (individual educational plan) for every single pupil. Their philosophy is that each child will flourish and show you their best if they are allowed to learn at their own pace with challenges being offered up at appropriate stages of their learning journey. This was not a school that was aspiring to climb up league tables, offer courses that prepared children for specific exams, taught to the test kind of place. As we toured the school it was interesting that Miss H became more and more engaged and Aiden at one point just reached up and held the Headmaster’s hand. As we left the school that day Miss H told us that this school was absolutely perfect.

So now we finally have places at a school that suits both children. Miss H will be in a very small class where she will get the individual adult attention she craves. She will get the support to really stretch her wings and meet her potential. She’s excited about taking up another instrument while continuing her violin. Aiden will have a personalised support program, he will be slowly eased into the school routine, he’s got very doable and small goals set for him. A speech therapist will work closely with his class teacher to help him establish some communication. His progress will be evaluated in December to see if we need more support that can currently be offered.

So we are cautiously optimistic. Aiden has a school place for September in a small, independent, mainstream school perched on a beautiful windy cliff halfway across the world. A small battle has been won. We have got a first glimpse of real inclusive education is: where a child is not passively punished for his disability, where a child is not denied his right to education because he needs a little bit more, where a child and his family are not locked into a label, don’t have their options whittled down based on some arbitrary elusive criterion. We were able to meet people working in education who actually deserve to be called educators. For the first time in months we have a small reason to be hopeful that we might get some answers, that Aiden has a very good chance of finding the support he needs, has a very good chance of learning to communicate and have a conversation, a very good chance of learning how to interact meaningfully with his peers.

In the meantime life has become a checklist of sorts. Final reports and ITP’s, cat export licenses, pet-friendly temp accommodation, movers’ quotes and schedules, a dividing up of the detritus of 9 years in one place. It’s massively overwhelming. The only way to deal with a change on this scale is to take it one day at a time and hope to hell that you never have to do an international move with young kids and a very old cat ever again!

If you want to read up more on forest schools: forestschools.com and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forest_school_(learning_style)

Disrupted Sleep

coffee wine

So Aiden has always been a super bad sleeper. This was more of a challenge for us as his sister before him had always been a very good sleeper, sleeping through the night aged 8 month for 12 hours straight. She was a baby out of one of those how-to-raise-a-baby guide books. Did everything as it said in the manual so we were a bit unprepared for this unique challenge, to say the least. Mr. A, however, is a whole other ball game. When he was a tot we thought that it was the recurrent ear infections and sleep apnea caused by enlarged adenoids that was the cause of his disrupted sleep. We went through months of tag teaming, trying to comfort a bawling child, trying to make sure that his crying doesn’t wake his sister, and then getting on with the rest of our day at 6 am. I remember crying along with him out of sheer exhaustion and helplessness and marvelling at how the husband could still remain all calm and rational. I also remember one very scary morning when I was so sleepy while driving Hanna to school that I drove into a barricade. Thankfully I was only doing about 15kmh.

After his surgery, Aiden’s sleeping pattern improved but not significantly. He still went through protracted periods where he would be up two, three hours every night for weeks on end. And bizarrely he was able to function and get through his day without a hitch. We tried everything that we could find to help him sleep through the night. We kept a regular bedtime routine. We kept his room environment very low key and free of any objects that might offer any unnecessary stimulation. We kept a food diary to determine if any particular type of food was the trigger. We consulted a leading children’s doctor who helpfully told me it was all the product of my lax and bad parenting, he was  spoiled rotten brat, and I should just spank him and leave him in his room to cry himself back to sleep. He did say that the spanking comment was a joke, of course. The one thing we have not tried, and will not try, is to leave Aiden to cry it out. He is incapable of putting himself to sleep. I believe that with time he will learn this skill. I certainly do not envision myself sitting in bed with a 15 year old boy till he falls asleep. Well at least I hope I wont be.

(An aside on crying it out or the Ferber method: It works, it really does but not with every child. Hanna was sleep trained using this method at 6 months old. The whole process was smooth and went exactly as it says on the package. We tried it Aiden, it was an unmitigated disaster).

Aiden’s bedtime routine involves an attempt at reading for 3-5 minutes and then lights out, no talking, no engaging him, and I sit by him till he falls asleep. This takes from 10 to up to 30 minutes. When he wakes in the night we repeat the same: I sit by his bed till he falls asleep. His periods of disrupted sleep have become less frequent and less intense as he’s grown up. We are going through a phase these days. But thankfully it’s every other night that he invariably wakes between 1 and 2 am and then will stay up for an hour or two. He is able to wake at 7 am as usual and go and have a full day at nursery and do his therapy/after school activities without any loss of energy or fatigue. Personally I think that our bodies have become used to this pattern. After all we have had more that 4 years of practice! We no longer feel like a zombie the morning after. On the rare occasion he has stayed up till, say, 5 am we have just carried on with our day as usual.

Ever since we have started to seriously consider and internalise this autism angle I have come across lots of blogs and discussion on why disrupted sleep is so common in children who are on the spectrum. Honestly, so far I have not found an answer. It cannot be sensory stimulation because Aiden doesn’t display heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli during his waking hours. It can’t be related to his gut flora as the food diaries we have maintained that his phases and periods of disrupted sleep are not linked to what he is eating. We have introduced pro- and pre-biotics and magnesium into his diet and while that has helped his general digestion, there has been no change in sleep pattern. What does give me hope is that his disrupted sleep patterns are both less intense and frequent. Also, hearing from other parents who have children on the high functioning part of the spectrum reporting that they saw sleep issues resolve on their own by the time their children turned 6 is very encouraging. Till then we will carry on as we have these past 4-plus years. When he sleeps through the night, like yesterday, we wake feeling like we have been given a new lease on life and a spontaneous “Wow! He slept through”.   Nights that he doesn’t, oh well, extra coffee. I think I can single-handedly keep Nespresso in business. If they have good business sense they should open a reward club for ASD families!

If you’re an ASD parent struggling with disrupted sleep you might find this useful: https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/health-and-wellness/sleep. If you find something out there that works for your family, well good for you, you’re luckier than us 😉

Post Script: Keep us in your thoughts next week and send good vibes our way as we head out for what can be the last leg of The Great School Hunt.

Non Typical Learning and Assistive Technology

PicMonkey CollageThe other week Aiden was trying on this new song he had heard. It was about how the consonant R changes the sound of the vowels. Went something like this: The R can make vowels say different sounds, like HER and BIRD…..It was a song featured on YouTube that he was fascinated with. He practised for weeks till he could finally sing it almost perfectly. Then one evening at bedtime, as he was singing his song, he took these big chunky wooden alphabet he has and started to make all the words he was singing about. Luckily I had the phone handy and was able to take pictures. Sharing these pictures with his teacher the following morning, I found out he uses magnetic letters to make a number of longer words like ALPHABETS and THANK YOU.

This has obviously made us think a lot about how Aiden learns. Given his development stage its not possible to sit him down and expect him to follow specific instruction about sounding out letters and then blend them to ‘decode’ a word. That notwithstanding, he has obviously taught himself to read albeit in a completely unstructured manner. Hanna, who is currently reading more than a year ahead of her chronological age, could not spell or read at the level Aiden is displaying. From observing him, I am guessing that he has a very sharply developed auditory and visual memory. He absolutely loves music and he loves the alphabet. When he was very young, around 2 years old, he learnt the ABC song. Then he taught himself all the sounds the English alphabet makes, again listening to songs. Later still he learnt all the sounds in the Jolly Phonics programme listening to a CD we had a home and that was played in his classroom. His teacher very helpfully put up a huge visual display of the Jolly Phonics in the classroom and he was able to link the sound of the letters to their physical shape. Letter-sound correspondence, as it is called. Now he has moved on to songs that deal with digraphs (two letters that make one sound, like OI and QU), and songs like the one I talked of earlier.

Its interesting to see here that Aiden has set his own pace of learning and has flourished. He surpasses his peers in his ability to read and deal with numbers by a huge margin. This has happened because he has been allowed to grow in an environment that did not pressure him to conform to some strict schedule or structure. No one at Nursery sat him down and said, ‘Today Aiden you will learn all the Phase I sounds of the Jolly Phonics programme, as prescribed by the National Curriculum structure’. Cues were taken from what he was playing with, what he was interested in, what he was listening to, what he was singing, and the appropriate supporting resources were made available. A child who is as yet unable to learn by conventional teaching methods was allowed to be himself and given the opportunity to interact with his environment on his own terms. And this allowed him to excel and we have proof of that. As he grows older, as his speech develops further, in the right classroom  the right teacher will be able to bring together all this as-yet-scattered knowledge of his and consolidate it. Till then he needs an environment that allows him to learn the way he is comfortable with. If he is forced to conform to some set standard too soon, he will become disengaged and disruptive. This is true for all children with development delays and learning difficulties. They HAVE to be taught in the way that they learn, not some government prescribed methodology.

This brings me to my second argument for the use of assistive technology to support learning. We allow our children the use of iPad. Yes, yes, we are guilty of having two iPads, one for each child. (Aiden’s is in a cover called Survivor, that is meant to used by extreme athletes and crazy Nat Geo type adventurers. Great investment if you want to share a tablet with a young child). Both children are allowed 90 minutes daily on their tablets. Note that we don’t have a cable connection for our telly. That’s mostly used by a certain somebody on his PS4. Whatever Aiden has learnt has NOT come from books, from flashcards, from being ‘taught’ by an adult. All his learning has come from his iPad and YouTube. We got some wonderful apps to support his learning at each stage. We listened to what he was singing, mostly they were songs off YouTube and then got toys that supported that stage of learning while providing him with the tactile stimulus he needs to consolidate his knowledge. Multi-sensory learning at its best and these methods are proven time and again to be wonderful for teaching atypically developing children.

Our favourite apps for Aiden have been Endless ABC & Endless 123 (for alphabet and numbers, brilliant for even ages 10-11); My PlayHome, PlaySchool, and PlayHomeStore (encourages pretend play); Toca Kitchen, Toca Monsters, Robot Lab, Tozzle HD (puzzle type problem solving and building activities). For older children Toca Lab is a brilliant way to introduce Chemistry and the periodic table. YouTube has an endless array of teaching videos. NumberJacks is a great way to teach very young children about numbers. Aiden is obsessed with Spanish these days and is regaling us with his very operatic rendition of the Spanish alphabet. Again learnt off YouTube.

So to conclude I would say two things: trust your child to show you how they like to learn. Schools are locked down by regulation to teach a certain way and this may mean that your child is lagging behind, not because they can’t but because they may not be able to learn the way the material is being taught. You can observe and find a multitude of clues from your child and using this information, assist their learning journey. Secondly, everything in moderation is good. I am not advocating for letting a device raise your child for you. We modern parents are under a lot of pressure to reduce ‘screen time’, eat organic, cut out the junk, buy only the best teaching toys, sign up the kids to seven different out-of-school activities etc. But not all screen time is bad. I know this for a fact that if Aiden was not able to choose the type of songs he listened to he would never have been able to learn all that he has. By all means limit the screen time and keep a very sharp eye on what your child is watching. Read reviews and research every app you buy them. But the way children learn now has changed hugely. And incorporating this assistive tech in your child’s learning, whether they have challenges or not, will only help them.

PS: The school question is still unresolved. There are plans in place. Big, bold ones. Keep sending your prayers and good vibes our way that we are able to make decisions that are best for both children.

I stand quietly

Dirty, Naked & Happy

I stand quietly while you do somersaults on the bed as you aren’t being naughty, you are just trying to get your out of sync body under control.

I stand quietly by the toilet door every time you need to go, and come with you around the house, and sometimes even just across the room, because I know you can feel truly frightened when you are not near me.

I stand quietly at the supermarket checkout while everyone stares at you barking like a dog and blowing raspberries on my arms to cope with the buzzing lights.

I stand quietly while you tell the baffled shop owner that you are looking for shoes that feel hard like splintered wood because your skin can’t bear soft things.

I stand quietly when the attendant gives us scornful looks when I ask for the key to the disabled toilet because the hand dryer…

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This World Needs “All Kinds of Minds”

Recently I listed to two TEDx talks that really resonated with me. The first was by Temple Grandin. For those who are unfamiliar with her, Temple is one of the foremost advocates of autism and has a high functioning form of the condition herself. She has written extensively trying to help ‘neurotypicals’ understand how the autistic mind words and gives many talks raising awareness of ASD. There is a great movie about her life. She is an animal behaviour expert, a tertiary teacher of animal sciences, and consults with the industry to make the handling of animals less stressful for the animal and therefore, more cost effective for the business.

In the TED talk I am referring to Dr. Grandin lays down a very logical case for nurturing the autistic mind. Autistic minds, even those that may not be high functioning, are able to perform a number of function that neurotypical people struggle with. Thinking in patterns, thinking in pictures, being able to focus on extremely minute details, the capacity of precise “bottom-up” thinking, are all strengths that the particular structure of an autistic brain make very easy to perform. Her premise in the talk is to make stakeholders realise that timely early intervention and making workplaces more friendly to accommodate for the sensory issue autistic people often struggle with can help bring a whole segment of people into the workforce. She presents this one example that is so incredibly simple yet powerful in its elegance: many people on the spectrum are very tech-savvy. Bringing such people to Silicon Valley at a young age and ‘mentoring’ them can lead to vastly different outcomes in terms of their productivity and independence. All the ‘mentor’ needs to do is to accommodate for any sensory issues and make instruction as precise as possible.

Listening to this talk it all seems so very simple and it appeals to one’s common sense. But if you do a little bit of Googling you will see that the trend in education and provision of services for SEN are going in the opposite direction. Since the only information I have is on the UK that is the only region I will write about. Currently, only 15% of ASD individuals are part of the workforce in the UK. I think we can safely assume that a majority of these individuals will be on the high functioning end of the spectrum, many will be ‘savants’. State funding for SEN has been sharply cut in recent years. Schools and Local Authorities (LEA’s) are reluctant to get children and families access to ed psych evaluation because once an evaluation indicates the need for services through a ‘statement’, the LEA is legally obligated to provide them. In the absence of sufficient funding, cash strapped authorities don’t have the resources to pay for the support children need. More and more children are being pushed into mainstream classrooms too early and for longer hours than they are ready for. This comes at a huge cost to child’s emotional development and takes a massive toll on families. So instead of working towards a better model of inclusion and nurturing the ASD minds, the state is moving towards a system that is failing more and more families and children who have the potential to be productive members of society are slipping through the gaps.

The second talk I listened to was a little bit more fantastical, almost whimsical, one can say given the harsher reality I have just discussed. In this talk educator Torri Dunlap makes a passionate case for doing away with label locking individuals with “special needs”. She is envisioning a society that is completely inclusive and where people of all mental and physical abilities have 100% access of to all public services including education.

In a way the two talks complement each other. We really desperately need to change our approach towards people of different abilities and create an environment that enables a person to develop themselves to their full potential, irrespective of how ‘limited’ that potential might be, by our personal judgement. Collectively this will serve to lower the cost to society and tax payers as more and more people are enabled to become independent and possibly, enter the workforce. As an example, for an individual with an autism spectrum disorder a simple task that is extremely precise and if of a repetitive nature might be perfect. And they would excel at performing this task with a higher degree of accuracy and greater efficiency than a ‘normal’ individual. (An aside:  I hate this word: NORMAL). The cost to the business would be modifying their work space to cope with any sensory issues that such an employee may have. But surely the eventual cost to society by not having this person function as part of the workforce is greater than the cost to a single business! I hope that within my lifetime we see a shift towards not just a more inclusive education system but a more inclusive society that no longer has an obsession with locking people and their potential with the label some vague DSM definition has given them.