The Onus of Acceptance – Written by Jean Winegardner

“I recently got an email pitch from a company with a social skills product that claimed the product, “will enable [children with special needs] to be accepted by their peers throughout all aspects of their lives.”

I’m not actually sure what the product was because that sentence stopped me in my tracks.

“Be accepted.” I can’t stop thinking about that. “…will enable them to be accepted by their peers…”

I don’t even remember what the pitch was for because it made me so upset. Why the passive structure on that sentence? Why is the onus on the disabled to be accepted? Why is it our job to make you accept us?

Shouldn’t the real issue here be how to get the typical children to accept special needs kids?

I look at my beautiful, perfect, weirdo autistic son. He is not like his peers. He is also not always accepted. It would probably be easier in the long run for him to learn to “be accepted.”

Yet I look at him and the most damaging thing I can imagine saying to him is, “Maybe you should act like everyone else so kids like you more.”

Yes, I’ve put my son in social skills groups. Yes, I teach him about neurotypical society. Yes, I teach him how to navigate the world as it stands. But no, I do not teach him that he has to change so that the other kids will accept him. I tell him that I love him exactly the way he is. If kids are mean to him, I tell him that the problem is with them—not him.

I am a perfect example of someone who has adjusted her behavior to be accepted. At this point it is almost unconscious. I don’t know that it has been terribly damaging to do that. But it has been exhausting. And it is unfair.

I hear people making the argument all the time that people have to work to be accepted. I hear parents of typical kids, parents of autistic kids, and neuro-typical and neuro-diverse people alike say that you have to change yourself to fit in. To a degree, they are right. Most people work to get along with other people. We dress a certain way in business environments. We tend to alter our behavior based on the situation in which we find ourselves.

But these ways of fitting in and the fact that everyone does them doesn’t change the fact that society asks autistic kids and adults to change most of their behaviors and to deny their natural instincts for the purpose of becoming more palatable to the neuro-majority. Society isn’t asking autistic people to make the same adjustments as everyone else. Society is asking autistic people to suppress who they are almost all of the time.

Asking someone to change who they are to be accepted isn’t okay. It’s like asking a woman to learn not to be raped. It’s like asking a child to learn not to be abused. It’s like asking a victim to learn not to be bullied. I know those analogies aren’t exactly right, but that is what it feels like. If you want something to happen, you have to teach the actor—not the recipient.

I am happy that I hear more and more parents defending their kids’ rights to be who they are, society be damned, but I know that I also hear a lot of parents telling their kids that it is their job to fit in. I wonder if all parents—of both typical and autistic kids—stopped trying to help their kids fit in and just told them to be who they are—consequences be damned—if maybe those consequences would disappear.

Maybe the time has come to stop teaching our autistic kids to mold themselves into what society wants them to be. Maybe the answer isn’t to change autistic people until we are palatable to the world at large. Maybe we don’t need to keep working to “be accepted.”

Maybe the answer is to put the onus on everyone else to accept us.”

 Article sourced directly from


Why Are Children with Disabilities Still Being Bullied and Marginalized within Education?


“Many disabled children fail to reach their full potential because they continue to be marginalized in schools, health and social care, according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

“We found that disabled children often experience discrimination, exclusion and even violence,” say Professor Dan Goodley and Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole, who implemented the study at the Manchester Metropolitan University. “The biggest barriers they meet are the attitudes of other people and widespread forms of institutional discrimination.”

“Disabled children are seldom allowed to play and act like other children because of concerns about their ‘leaky and unruly’ bodies. But our study shows that many children who don’t fit the narrow definition of ‘normal’ have untapped reserves of potential and high aspirations which can be fulfilled when their families receive effective support. There are also many amazing families who should be celebrated for the way they fight for their children.” continues Professor Goodley.

The aim of the Does Every Child Matter, post Blair? project was to find out what life is like for disabled children and young people in the context of policy changes set in motion by the New Labour Government after 1997. The Aiming High for Disabled Children policy agenda was intended to enable disabled children to be ‘healthy’, ‘stay safe’, ‘enjoy and achieve’, ‘make a positive contribution’ and ‘achieve economic well-being’.

The findings, which are based on a series of interviews with disabled children and their families, reveal numerous barriers to these goals, for example:

  • Disabled children are often perceived by educational and care professionals as “lacking” and as failing to fit in with the image of ‘normal’;
  • Families who do not match the norm are frequently excluded from friendships, education and work;
  • The support system is complicated and there are gaps in provision, particularly during the transition to adulthood;
  • Physical access and transport barriers to sport and leisure activities result in segregation, while participation in art and creative activities is limited;
  • Widespread discriminatory attitudes threaten to create a culture of bullying;
  • Families of children with life-limiting/threatening impairments often experience isolation and poverty

The researchers call for a change of attitude towards disability so that diversity is not only valued, but promoted. “There is an ‘epidemic’ of labelling children as disabled,” Professor Goodley and Dr Runswick-Cole warn. “Parents are repeatedly under pressure to talk about what their children can’t do in order to access services and support, but sometimes the label can obscure the individual. Families should be asked what support their child requires, not what is the ‘matter’ with him or her.”

Their report recommends that policy should prioritize enabling disabled children to break down barriers by supporting their participation in education, the arts, leisure and their communities and by meeting their communication requirements. “We need to re-think the culture of individualism and performance which pushes disabled children out” continue the researchers. “Pressures on schools are getting worse. We found a case where parents of non-disabled children petitioned to exclude a disabled child. What does this say about the meaning of education and community?”

The study found that bullying is often accepted as inevitable when disabled children are perceived as vulnerable. There were several layers of violence, from manhandling in school to psychological bullying, which often goes unnoticed by adults. Some children do however stand up to bullies and refuse to be limited by labels that are imposed upon them.

One young person insisted on attending Brownies meetings alone, despite health and safety rules that required her mother to accompany her. “Kids seem to enjoy challenging people’s expectations about their limitations,” the researchers commented.”

Originally sourced from


Parental Experiences of Systemic Violence Within Educational Inclusion


Educational inclusion is the process of integrating children with disabilities within public or private non-segregated (mainstream) educational facilities (Better Pathways, 2006:3). Cognitive disabilities (Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Intellectual or Global Delay, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) form the largest and fastest growing area of disability within educational inclusion (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2008:8; AEU, 2011:2).

This research therefore encapsulates parental perspectives on the fastest growing area of inclusion within our education system. In doing so it provides insight into an under investigated and increasingly contentious area of policy that holds social and political ramifications for both children with cognitive disabilities and their parents (Goodley and Runswick-Cole, 2011:604;Goodley, 2001: 207).


Parental experiences of educational inclusion are situated within an anti-discrimination policy framework. A framework which increasingly constructs the ideal of inclusive education as the standard form of educational practice within Australia (Better Pathways, 2006:3).

Within such contexts parents of children with cognitive disabilities are required to submit to multiple educational policies, processes and practices that other parents are not exposed too.

Predominant among these is the application of an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) rating in order to determine their child’s eligibility for accessing special educational facilities and funding (AEU, 2011:2; Education Standards, 2005:10).

This processes makes the allocation of funding for children with cognitive disabilities one of the most structurally controlled categories of disability within the inclusion process.

In Australia the qualifying IQ score for both accessing special educational facilities and government assistance for funding is that of 70 or below (AEU, 2011:2; Commonwealth of Australia, 2009:18).

Through applying qualifying IQ scores the Australian education system has significantly reduced the number of children with cognitive impairments eligible to access special education and funding (AEU, 2011:3).

The Australian Education Union (2011:3) state that as a consequence of the way in which the government applies qualifying IQ levels to both funding and accessing special education, “the rights of students with disabilities to be provided with special education” are being removed. 

The AEU (2011:2) estimate that 94% of children with cognitive disabilities are  not being accurately “recognised or supported” within the Australian education system. 

This impacts predominantly on children with conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Asperger’s Syndrome, Global Delay, and ADHD, as they receive little to no funding within the  process of educational inclusion (AEU, 2011:2).   

Through restricting access to special educational facilities, parents of children with cognitive impairments within Australia are being structurally channelled into engaging within an inclusive education which in turn, through its own mechanism, actively denies parents the ability to access the appropriate supports their children require.

Research Findings

Parents within this study used the words, ‘fight’, ‘risk’ and ‘brutalisation’ to describe their experiences of their child’s process of educational inclusion within a system underpinned by the policies of educational equity for children with disabilities.

Such findings suggest that parental experiences of educational inclusion do not begin at the school gate. Rather they begin with the policies and processes that enable the education system to structurally define and dictate the practices of inclusion.

Parents described experiencing educational policies not as neutral legislation but as the discriminatory grounds from which their enforced compliance with the processes of categorising their child’s level of dis/ability begins.  Such expressions suggest that from a parental perspective there is something fundamentally non-inclusive about an education system that tests, measures and defines children with cognitive disabilities in ways that deny them access to support.

This research further found that parents experience their child’s processes of inclusion within the Australian education system as discriminatory, oppressive and exclusionary. It found that parental experiences are constructed through the restrictions that the policy of mandatory education, when combined with educational inclusion, hold for them.  These restrictions are experienced through the lack of special educational facilities available and the eligibility criteria applied to accessing them. Some parents expressed that due to these restrictions educational inclusion is not a choice for them but an enforced action.

Parents related experiencing the capacity of the education system to define, limit and remove their child’s access to resources and funding as  creating both an implicit and  explicit ‘threat’ (Goodley and Runswick-Cole, 2011:604). Parents further expressed that the lack of transparency and accountability the education system applies to the disbursement of funding gives them “no say” regarding how the practices of inclusion are implemented.  This generated a sense of exclusion within parental perspectives due to the authority of the education system and school staff to define and decide how their children’s inclusion will be managed.

This was reflected in the “everyday encounters with disablism” that parents describe experiencing within the education system (Goodley and Runswick-Cole, 2011:609).  These everyday encounters of discrimination, oppression, disablism  and  sense of ‘threat’ that parent’s experience can be identified as systemic violence  (Goodley and Runswick-Cole, 2011:609). This is reflective of the recent work of Dan Goodley and Katherine Runswick-Cole (2011:610) who argue that both children with disabilities and their parents are being governed by the power of education systems to limit and control resources. As a result parents of children with cognitive disabilities are being structurally positioned and governed by the triad of policy, process and practice within educational inclusion.

This study found that parents express the need to have more educational choices for their children and to be given a say as to how their children’s levels of funding are established and applied. Parents within this study indicate an awareness of their exclusion from the policies, processes and practices of their child’s educational inclusion. Parents within this study express that they are actively seeking ways to generate their participation within their child’s process of inclusion. Despite this the education system maintains the power to control, define and limit the ways in which inclusion takes place through the combination of policy, process and practice.  All of which currently exclude parents.

This research  indicates that the settings  in which the  processes and practices of educational inclusion take place are becoming key sites through which parents of children with cognitive disabilities  experience disablism (Goodley and Runswick-Cole; 2011, 608; Ryan & Runswick –Cole, 2008:199; Brett,2002:835; Avery, 1999:118) and systemic violence(Goodley and Runswick-Cole, 2011;610).  

Autism – the ‘Lost Generations’

Artwork by Maria Zeldis

Artwork by Maria Zeldis

Our  societies system of assessing and coordinating services and supports to families and young adults with disabilities has been developed on the basis of a significantly misinformed analysis of what certain types of disabilities actually are and how they occur.

In short this system is fundamentally flawed at its very core. This in turn has caused the denial of services to those with  misunderstood conditions such as Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, particularly for women and girls.  But it’s not all rosy for boys either, many of whom still miss out on receiving vital medical, educational, financial and workplace supports due to the fundamental errors this system makes in defining and deciding the level of  functional severity required to qualify for support.

As a society we like to think that greater levels of recognition will create greater levels of support and understanding but  in the meantime… we are now facing the largest en mass wave of young adults with Autism and Asperger’s ever to enter into our communities and those young adults need support services now.

It’s not good enough to say that we either don’t qualify for, or have to wait years for support. We need support services now otherwise we as a society will have to own up to knowingly  creating  “Autism’s Abandoned Generations”….

Those whose differences are noted  by professionals yet not considered severe enough, by more professionals,  to warrant  the support that many parents and young adults  with Autism themselves declare that they need.  As parents many of us of have been shouting from every corner of the globe trying to raise awareness of  the ways in which our children and young adults have been made to suffer the ignorance’s  and intolerance’s of a system gone so completely wrong.

We encourage our young adults to speak for themselves and many of them now are, and have been, for quite some time….

The problem is… they are not being listened too any more than we  as parents were listened too when we first spoke up and out for our children.  Politicians and medical professionals continue to ignore the immense and continuously growing body of literature on Autism and Asperger’s written by adults and parents.  It seems that the experiences and understandings of adults with Autism and the parents who deal with the needs of autistic children on a daily basis and who are more often than not well-informed and well-educated, are still not being heard.

The only time professionals seem capable of changing their opinions is after the personal experience of having a family member diagnosed with Autism and even then, for now at least, those brave enough to admit to it, remain either in the minority or are ostracized.  So what will it take to amend this problem and why is there such a horrendous  level of resistance toward acknowledging the diagnostic mistakes of the past (Refrigerator Mothers & other Autism Myths)? Do any of us really believe that  reframing the method or manner of diagnosis within the new DSMV will do anything to address this?  I for one think that it’s time that our young adults and their parents heard the words “Sorry… We got it wrong……What can we do to help”…..  Wouldn’t that be nice?

(P.S.  Yes I know… globes don’t technically have corners!)