By Damian Smith
I’ve been reluctant to comment on Pauline Hanson’s noisome remarks regarding autism and schooling. Like wildfire her vacuous bigotry requires oxygen and I am loath give her the attention she so desperately desires.
However, there are times when one must stare into the abyss.
I have what was once known as Asperger’s Syndrome, now coalesced into the all-encompassing autism spectrum.
I’m one of what Hanson calls ‘those people’.
I’ve built my career around being on the spectrum, on de-stigmatising a condition that doesn’t render you inferior – just different. I’ve tried to make myself an example of achievement, that being on the spectrum doesn’t limit you and can in fact empower you, that you can be ‘normal’ if you want to be, but more importantly that there’s no need to be normal at all.
And in this capacity it is incumbent on me to retort.
I also went to a public school. One with something of a reputation. A school that stands to gain a lot from the Gonski program.
School was a brutal experience. Aside from the regulation systemic bullying, there were the problems stemming from lack of funding. Our classes would regularly contain over thirty students, sometimes two to a desk. Half of our classrooms were temporary demountables, lacking heating in the winter and pushing 35 degrees in the summer.
Hardly ideal conditions for learning in the formative years of your life.
In this post-apocalyptic hellscape of a high school were students held back? Were students denied the attention because of the disruption of their peers? Of course they were.
Were the students causing these disruptions the ones with special needs? Absolutely not.
In my experience it wasn’t the special needs students who were the problem at all.
The problem was the idiots.
The racists, the xenophobes and homophobes; the kids who were terrified of anything different, who translated that terror into anger and violence.
Does this sound familiar, Senator Hanson?
The disruptions in maths class did not stem from an autistic tantrum. A child with autism can find comfort in numbers, in the honesty of mathematics. He doesn’t yell and throw paper demanding to know when he’ll need to use algebra in ‘real life’ (hint: it’s always). That was left to the so called ‘normal kids’.
No class was ever cancelled because of an autistic child not grasping the fall of the Wiemar Republic, however there were classes cancelled because a group of boorish thugs stole a Muslim student’s taqiyah and passed it around while chanting ‘we grew here, you flew here’ (the student in question was born in Randwick).
No science class was held back for an autistic student needing to ‘feel good about himself’ but a biology lesson resulted in a class wide detention when a student was pelted with sheep hearts because his peers suspected he might be gay (he wasn’t, he just participated in Rock Eisteddfod).
So from my admittedly anecdotal experience is it the special needs students who are holding the rest back? No. It’s the ones who were weaned on ignorance and hate who were the problem. The ones whose parents praised One Nation during its first inception, before Pauline Hanson’s myopic monomania had resolved into a weathervane for things she’d read on breitbart.com that morning and leaned more towards a general hatred for the greater humanity.
But now, more than ever, there is a pressing need for those with special needs to actually feel … special. Because when they look at Pauline Hanson they see a bully winning. They see that the student who doesn’t get the point of the lesson and vindictively disrupts the rest of the class can grow up and become a senator.
I’ve never held back anyone’s education. I value knowledge and learning above all, and I encourage it in everyone. But our students are being held back by those that don’t prize learning, those that see education as a chore and a prison sentence and lash out at anyone seen to be enjoying the experience.
Those like Pauline Hanson.
So take it from me, Senator Hanson. Autistic kids aren’t a detriment to the standards of education in this country. I should know. I lived it. But if I ever need an opinion on dropping out of school at 15 because of unprotected sex you’ll be the first person I call.