Special needs is a loaded term. It brings some fluffy connotations of cute, lovable and unchallenging kids, but for the most part it is an incredibly broad definition that encompasses pain, anxiety and uncertainty. And that’s just for carers. Those with special needs have a full spectrum of health issues that fate has cherrypicked for them to deal with. Then there are the ongoing social issues ranging from being ignored to being targetted for abuse.
But we band together as we can. The internet provides us with some wonderful connectivity and allows us, mostly the carers, to compare notes and feel part of a wider community. What doesn’t help is when somebody who’s technically inside the camp, someone with quite powerful influence through her high-profile newspaper column, ends up pissing all over us.
I have written about you before, Ms Marrin, but last year I had the time and patience to have a little fun. Twelve months on and I have neither the luxury nor the inclination for gentle ribbing. Your oppositional stances on this issue of intellectual disability are confusing and downright dangerous to a minority of people who need advocacy, not mixed signals.
You can write beautifully, and with touching insight. I wonder if this is because your younger sister was born with a mental handicap. Having a son with Ds certainly gives me an insight I would never be able to buy, and when you wrote this piece about the gifted singer Susan Boyle appearing on X Factor or whatever show it was, and the feeble-minded audience reaction to her, I sensed understanding in your DNA.
…the jeering audience of vain young people trying to catch the camera’s eye and the preening judges of this contest are the nasty boys and girls of fairy stories who mock the poor old lady because she is not young and beautiful, only to be punished when her real self is revealed. And their punishment is to be revealed as they truly are – heartless, thoughtless and superficial. They will grow old too, to be ignored in their turn, and then they will understand that appearances are not everything. And those who despise people who are not thin, not young, not beautiful and not cool will one day find themselves despised in exactly the same way, by people just like their younger selves.
But then you swing to some unforgiving default position as is your way, seen here in last week’s article in The Times. As if your special needs insight gives you the right to choose for all, you have decided that it all boils down to the cost of care workers, and what becomes of a child born to intellectually disabled parents. I’m not about to dismiss these as insignificant factors. They are not. But nor am I about to let them decide whether people we don’t know should be prevented from ever living. While you ponder the grubby cost, from the cosiness of Britain’s unimaginable wealth in the eyes of four fifths of the world’s population, let me direct you to the case of Kelly Fitzgerald, from New Zealand.
Go tell Kelly that a) costs; and b) a future that only your crystal ball seems capable of divining are the two reasons that you have for slamming the door on any idea of her being a parent. Have you seen the way that her mother gently ensures that Kelly doesn’t get any more credit than her siblings? Have you? She’s a stunning tower of virtuous equality, that woman, proud of all her children in an unfussed way, and you and I could both learn from her. Mostly you, though.
Another avenue you could learn from, Minette, is closer to home. Learn from the person who said that ‘Susan Boyle managed to rise above [the bullying and belittling sneers of the studio audience]. She found herself in church choirs and karaoke, restored and triumphant in music; it’s a story of the undefeated spirit.’ Learn from yourself. If you can sort out your own Jeckyl and Hyde handicap, Minette, and use that column of yours to advance the cause of life with the altruism you can sometimes show, you too can help to ‘break the grip of this sneering world’.
Otherwise find a more worthy opponent for your bias. Intellectually disabled people have enough to deal with.