Let fledglings even special ones fly free

6th July 2007 at 01:00
"They fuck you up, your mum and dad." I still remember the thrill of hearing Philip Larkin's wicked words, written in the days when it was rude to say that.

I gloried in it, not just the buzz of actually seeing those words in a poetry book, but also the fact that somewhere, someone had recognised just how awful parents could be.

Of course, it still makes me laugh, though now I look at our lads and daren't ask whether we did or not. Maybe because I know we did. Isn't that all parents' sole purpose in life? But it wasn't deliberate.

Yet some parents of special needs kids seem hell bent on it. They insist their child is put in mainstream classes where they will learn very little and will probably be bullied mercilessly. And they believe everything they are told. One great galumphing lad told me how his mummy would believe him because "I'm her little boy!" He was 13, for heaven's sake. A perfect example of what Larkin was talking about, if you ask me.

We have parents who dress their additional support needs teenager in lurid tracksuits a way of infantilising them and avoiding relationships, perhaps? Then we discovered a 6ft boy who still pulled his trousers and pants round his knees to pee like a toddler. Likewise, we find some are still given help to shower, when they would be quite capable of doing it themselves. Still others are not taught the natural modesty of a teenager, and continue to strip off willy-nilly. Young people with special needs have the same urges as any other and need to be taught what is appropriate only when they are on their own.

It would be unfair to suggest that parents deliberately cause their children problems by not encouraging them into age-appropriate behaviour. For most of us, after all, our children force us into recognising they are growing up, by refusing to wear what we tell them to, cringing at our jokes, being mortified at parents' evenings and distancing themselves from us as they fight for independence.

We need to encourage parents of special children to let go, to distance themselves slightly and to give their children the space to grow up as much as they can while recognising that, for many parents, for whom we do have such admiration, their job will never end.

Penny Ward teaches at Carnoustie High

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