Watching the news over the past few weeks has been one of the most depressing things – those in charge of our country bluster, waffle and are myopic in their characterisation of those they claim to represent. And this has really resonated for me and my family.
Let me explain. Our son had a stroke when he was three months old and, as a result, has right hemiplegic cerebral palsy. He’s now 8 and in Primary 4. We’re lucky in so far as his challenges are physical – partially paralysed down his right side and a visual deficit. He works enormously hard to compensate, although as he gets older, the differences between him and his peers become increasingly, painfully obvious.
Often, he suffers from terrible fatigue and will be in bed as early as 7pm many nights per week. Sadly, despite medication to reduce them, he suffers from rotten cramps that keep us all up as we attempt to stop the spasms. As well as the physical, there are the metaphysical pains as he can’t keep up with his peers – he loves Cubs but we haven’t been able to go for the past few weeks as he’s been too tired. This causes him embarrassment and the fatigue means he misses out on things he loves and times with people he loves – both me and my husband have to work late so often that we can miss seeing him, as he’s already done his physio and is asleep by the time the other one gets home.
Work-life balance: ‘Teaching’s just a job – so prioritise family time’
Additional support needs: Parents’ views sought
The thing that strikes me about my son’s experience is that he looks “normal” apart from his leg brace, until he’s not – like when he can fall over while simply trying to stand still. What will his future look like? I don’t have to meet the challenges he and many thousands of others face every day; still, at the end of every week I am shattered from reaching beyond where I thought my limits lay.
Support for ASN pupils
Our world is set up for neurotypical, able-bodied folk. But one in five of us has a disability. And as far as I can see, our world actively discriminates against that 20 per cent – although, let’s be honest, it doesn’t really meet the needs of everyone else. Hands up if you have work-life balance nailed?
And this brings me back around to why I started thinking about our current crop of politicians. At our Parliament in Westminster, 1 per cent of MPs are disabled. And no wonder: able-bodied, neurotypical people struggle to meet the demands of long days and late-night votes.
We will be poorer as a society if we do not make an effort to hear all voices, not just those who shout the loudest. My deep hope is that we can support our young people to share their individual voices, and ensure that we all listen – a skill that seems to me to be lacking entirely in Westminster.
But what does this mean for us as educators? In the early years, we need to support and value all forms of communication, and support our learners to do the same.
In the primary sector, we need to think about the structure of our day. If you’re tired, how are your kids? Are they still hearing you?
In the secondary sector, I don’t know what the answer is – and this is what really scares me. How will my son, among millions of others, reach his potential? I don’t know enough about how secondary education works, but I urge those in the sector to think long and hard to make sure that all of our kids can reach their potential.
The bottom line is that we cannot afford to be as blustering, myopic and unrepresentative as those who are supposed to be speaking up for us in Parliament.
Bex Carter is an early years quality improvement officer (QIO) and a former primary school depute headteacher in Scotland