'My daughter is not stupid'

"She's not stupid, she just writes slowly," she said. I sat there, pale-faced and with furrowed brow, as the teacher explained to me that my daughter needed a little extra help with her handwriting. In typical me-fashion, I’d emotionally catapulted ten years into the future, and envisioned a constant battle ahead for us.

My daughter is left-handed. As a result of that, and the major focus on right-handedness in the world around us, it took a little longer for my child to adjust to creating perfectly formed letters in school. Luckily, with wonderful occupational therapy exercises and endless encouragement, she’s conquered her slow and scrawly handwriting phase.

Feeling different

I didn’t tell anyone about it. I didn’t let on that I was ferociously carving out blocks of my personal time to run my kid through handwriting exercises. I didn’t even tell her, I just presented it all as 'fun activities'. That fear of my child feeling "different" drove me to distraction and determination. I didn’t want my daughter to grow up feeling what I felt.

Growing up, I remember feeling "different". My folks weren’t normal suburban parents, I preferred my own company and I wasn’t any good at sports. In fact, I was downright crap at it. In school, a PE teacher once ridiculed me in front of the entire class because I "ran funny". In fact, she pointed, laughed and made me run across the field while everyone watched and giggled. Another time, I was told I was "fat and only good for shoving over" by a girl who believed I’d be the least successful person of our Matric year.

A dear friend of mine's child started remedial school this year. She felt, on some level, that she’d failed him, and that he’d bear the brunt of some weird societal practice that seems to pervade almost every suburban community - that children who attend remedial schools are stupid, slow or mentally deficient. 

Stop the discrimination

I heard stories growing up about the kid down the road who went to "that school". The school that children with learning disabilities attended. It’s a weird sort of discrimination, whereby children in mainstream schools are taught to look down upon children attending remedial schools.

Where did that differentiation and condescension come from, I wonder? I think you know, before you even read my next line - it came from the parents. It came from an overwhelming fear within parents that THEIR child might actually need to attend that school one day, and (heaven forbid) how would they cope with that societal strain? The self-talk that can lead on from that causes parents to unwittingly teach their children "that kid’s different so they are therefore inferior".
That weird differentiation presents itself in almost every classroom. It happens when a pupil enthusiastically answers a teacher’s question, and is proved wrong. An almost instant response from classmates will include laughter and perhaps a quip of "you’re stupid". I know those experiences, and I’m willing to bet you have felt them too.

The ridicule of each other, that seems to live within our society stems back to so much. It goes back to the notion of one-upmanship, where everyone’s trying to better their lives, get ahead, earn more money, drive a flashier car than their neighbour or have the prettier wife.

It’s filtered down into our kids, and sometimes, it rears its ugly head. It’s just an extension of our own innermost fear that we, in our very selves, are not good enough. That fierce sense of competition that has rallied people into factions, fighting and playground bullying tactics has become a part of the very childhoods we’re creating.

Taking a stand

I’ll tell you this much, though. I won’t stand for it. I won’t sit by and let someone’s kid call mine stupid. I won’t listen when someone leans over to me and conspiratorially whispers "oh, she goes to a special school, you know... problems in the home, must be", or if I have to deal with yet another misaligned perspective about whether or not a child’s difficulties at school are some kind of reflection on their mental capabilities.

Instead, I will stand up for each child. I don’t care if they can’t add or can’t jump a hurdle (neither can I, kid!). I will applaud every attempt they throw at sports day, and I’ll clap every time someone gets a prize. Yes, I am the mom who applauds wildly when the last child crosses that finish line, even if everyone else pretends not to look. I’ll swoon over every child’s drawing if I am privileged enough to spy a peek at them.

I will stand up for our children, no matter what they do, how they do it, where they do it or whether or not they do it at all. And I will fight, tooth and nail, for each child to know that they don’t go to a 'normal school' or a 'special school'. I hate those terms - children go to school.

I will stand up for every child, no matter who they are, what their parents do or where they live. I hope you will too.

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

Have you encountered this sort of discrimination? What did you do?
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