Thursday, March 31, 2011
It Started With Salad
I had a conversation the other day at work that left me feeling sad, angry and frustrated. I work in a high school kitchen/cafeteria and we were discussing a problem with the self serve salad bar. It seems as if there are a handful of people who take much more than their share, leaving little for those who come after. The solution was a compromise that nobody is that thrilled with, and it sent the conversation in a new direction; who is to blame. The first group mentioned by some co-workers were the special needs students. I pointed out that it is not only those students, and that many of them don’t know any better. The looks I got were hostile, as was the tone of voice used to ask me where the aides were that are supposed to be with the students. Obviously I don’t know, but my guess would be that since the students in question are able enough to do some things independently, they are sent as a group to lunch a few minutes before the general population of the school. As the discussion progressed, it became clear to me that there is still much prejudice against the developmentally delayed population in general. With all the strides forward that have been made in the past 50 years or so in regards to how well those with mental difficulties are assimilated into society, there are too many people who believe they have no business in the general population and should be separated, kept together with those who are similar. As the mother of a child who has many severe disabilities this was most upsetting. Not surprising, but upsetting nonetheless. It is an uphill battle we fight to encourage people to understand that when you segregate those who are different, you create more problems than you solve in the long run. As sure as the sun rises daily, the children who have special needs grow up, graduate, and need to have a safe place to go daily. Many can work with the proper supports, but some cannot. As the children age, so do their parents. Most will outlive their parents, for the cruel irony is that life expectancies are frequently not affected by whatever is different with the brains of those in need of constant supervision and care. There are group homes, and daycares, and even some jobs available but not enough of any of these, and not enough funding for meeting even the needs of many. What could be sadder than an elderly mother still caring for her middle aged offspring whose developmental age is perhaps 5 years old on a good day? What is to become of that adult child when the parent passes on? Clearly this is going to create an emergency situation for placement, when it would have been much better to have made sure that there was a safe place for them to live when they were a young adult and the parent was able to really help with the transition. Of course it would be hard on both the parent and the child to separate. If done when both are in good health and able to cope, with the right supports, this is a problem that can be fixed. When adults do not understand that the attitudes they display are going to affect society for years to come, in ways they cannot imagine, societal problems do not get better.