“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Reflecting their surroundings

I was in a classroom this morning visiting a student teacher of 10 year old children with moderate to severe disabilities. Some of the children had autism, others cognitive disabilities. As I sat in the back of the room, there was suddenly a lot of screaming from the next room. Ultimately a student was placed in the little office which connected the two rooms. For the next 10 minutes you would hear a calm woman's voice followed with screams of "Shut up b**ch." Over and over again.

In another setting of children with severe disabilities of kindergarten age, there was a boy who didn't communicate other than to say "Hi" on occasion. However, as he moved through his day, he constantly repeated, "F***ing sh*t." That was his complete language repertiore. Knowing the number of times something has to be repeated in order to find its way into such a student's language repertiore, I couldn't help but wonder about the environment these students were living in.

Maybe people around them thought them cute in their nonsensical swearing. However, that kind of language is not thought of as funny in many, maybe most social settings. People who talk that way will never be able to have any job in which they work with customers. You need only tell your boss "Shut up b**ch" once before you will be fired (in case you didn't know).

We, however, in the church need have patience and acceptance for people who use such language while also trying to teach those individuals that such language is not appropriate. However, we must take the position that the swearing cannot be a reason for exclusion from a church setting.

I used to work with kids with serious emotional disturbance. I have been called many memorable things as has my mother, my wife, and anyone else they thought might cause me to get angry. In every case, I have had to repeat to myself, "This is the disability talking. This is the disability talking." Had I rejected them, I would have supported what they were trying to prove to me. That is, basically that they are worthless and that I would ultimately reject them. It is tough when you faced with such a barrage, however, in these cases it truly is the disability speaking.

In the case of the severely disabled children above, it isn't really the disability talking as in the second case, he was doing little more than making sounds that he had heard and had discovered would get a reaction positively or negatively from his environment. In the first case, he learned that that is how you interact with your environment by examples that had been provided to him. His particular choice of language he probably also discovered got the maximum reaction from his environment.

Is the church prepared to include people such as these or are we only willing to take those who act in a particular socially circumscribed manner? If these types of children and adults are in the congregation, how do we prepare congregational members for the things they might say or do? I think it begins by having those people present to begin the conversation. I think people have not been forced to come to grips with their faith in terms of having demands made on them in areas of acceptance and understanding of others. The church environment has in many ways become too sterile.

I need to begin with acceptance and then move to change. I don't begin with change and then move to acceptance.



Anonymous said...

I have had plenty experience with children that can only produce obscenities as language. It is depressing to know that the reason for that are the parents. I have learned to ignore the obsenities and deal with the child in a better way. I had never given much thought to the involvement of the church with the disabled community. I am ashamed to admit it, but it is true. You are right, the church at times pretends to be perfect, and tries to exclude anything or anybody they do not view as "controllable." If they cannot control you they do not want you. Disabled people are not always easy to direct. I have been working with special education for almost eight years, mostly moderate to severe. My passion, however, is autism.
Adriana Cota

Anonymous said...

After reading this posting, I have a couple of questions. 1)At what age, physical or emotional, do children switch from reflecting their surroundings by using profanity, to swearing as a reflection of their disability? And, 2)Does it really matter? After all, it seems that in both cases the child is swearing in order to get some kind of reaction, either for attention or as a test of their worthiness and acceptance of their disability.

However, whether or not these vocalizations can be accepted in church obviously depends on the church leadership as well as the congregation. I believe, to some extent, that one of the reasons most churches have not demanded that their congregations understand and accept those individuals with disabilities is because people have so many choices today on where to go to church. So, if any disagreeable demands are made or if they are forced to come to grips with their faith, they will go elsewhere to find a church that suits them better. Unfortunately, using force and demands will not work on today's Christian because they have so many worship options to choose from.