Fairness, Anxiety and Disability update

Following my realisation that a discussion of privilege was warranted to change Jeremy’s (my 8 year old son) perspective on fairness, I decided to create a questionnaire to expose how people are treated differently based on appearance. The questionnaire and discussions that followed are below:

Questionnaire:

Illustration

A group of children with different appearances are pictured standing together smiling. A boy sits in a wheelchair toward the front of the group. A girl in a pink shirt stands next to him.

A group of children with different appearances are pictured standing together smiling. A boy sits in a wheelchair toward the front of the group. A girl in a pink shirt stands next to him.

Image obtained from http://esl-multicultural-stuff-page4.blogspot.com.au/p/diversity.html

Question 1.

How comfortable would you be saying “hello” to the girl with the soccer ball if she said hello to you (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How comfortable would you be saying “hello” to the girl wearing the head scarf if she said hello to you (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How comfortable would you be saying “hello” to the boy wearing the blue shirt (who is standing) if he said hello to you (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How comfortable would you be saying “hello” to the girl wearing the yellow shirt if she said hello to you (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How comfortable would you be saying “hello” to the boy wearing the red shirt if he said hello to you (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How comfortable would you be saying “hello” to the boy in the wheelchair if he said hello to you (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How comfortable would you be saying “hello” to the girl wearing the pink shirt if she said hello to you (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

Question 2.

How much would you like to play with the girl with the soccer ball (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How much would you like to play with the girl wearing the head scarf (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How much would you like to play with the boy wearing the blue shirt (who is standing) (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How much would you like to play with the girl wearing the yellow shirt (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How much would you like to play with the boy wearing the red shirt (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How much would you like to play with the boy in the wheelchair (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How much would you like to play with the girl wearing the pink shirt (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

Question 3.

If you needed help with your school work how likely would you be to ask the girl with the soccer ball (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

If you needed help with your school work how likely would you be to ask the girl wearing the head scarf (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

If you needed help with your school work how likely would you be to ask the boy wearing the blue shirt (who is standing) (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

If you needed help with your school work how likely would you be to ask the girl wearing the yellow shirt (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

If you needed help with your school work how likely would you be to ask the boy wearing the red shirt (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

If you needed help with your school work how likely would you be to ask the boy in the wheelchair (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

If you needed help with your school work how likely would you be to ask the girl wearing the pink shirt (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

Question 4.

How likely would you be to share your food with the girl with the soccer ball (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How likely would you be to share your food with the girl wearing the head scarf (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How likely would you be to share your food with the boy wearing the blue shirt (who is standing) (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How likely would you be to share your food with the girl wearing the yellow shirt (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How likely would you be to share your food with the boy wearing the red shirt (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How likely would you be to share your food with the boy in the wheelchair (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

How likely would you be to share your food with the girl wearing the pink shirt (out of 10)?

1              2              3              4              5              6              7              8              9              10

Question 5.

Which child or children do you think would most likely become a doctor when they grow up?

 

Which child or children do you think would most likely become nurse when they grow up?

 

Which child or children do you think would most likely become a teacher when they grow up?

 

Which child or children do you think would most likely become an athlete when they grow up?

 

Which child or children do you think would most likely have children when they grow up?

 

Which child or children do you think would most likely become prime minister when they grow up?

 

Which child or children do you think would most likely become a scientist when they grow up?

 

Which child or children do you think would most likely become an astronaut when they grow up?

Question 6.

Who gets treated the best? More hellos, more play, more food etc.

 

Who gets treated the worst? Less hellos, less play, less food etc.

 

The person that gets treated the best is the most privileged. What things about them made you decide to treat them better?

Boy or girl?                                                          Yes/no

Clothes they wore?                                            Yes/no

If they could do things like you?                      Yes/no

If they looked like you?                                     Yes/no

Other: 

Question 6.

Do you think they way you treat people based on how they look and what you think they can be when they grow up affects what they think they can do and therefore what they end up doing? Way too confusing, question failed.

How do you think they feel about that? Do you think that is fair?

What could you do to change that?

Discussions of questionnaire:

I explained the questions and gave no sign as to the preferred answers. I just noted their answers as they went along. Some answers were surprising in that they thought the boy at the back of the image had a disability but they couldn’t explain what it was (perhaps because his facial features seemed less symmetrical and his head was turned to the side). Once the boys started to realise that they weren’t treating people the same (based on some of the later questions) they started to get upset and wanted to change some answers.

Jeremy was more comfortable in general with saying hello to everyone, asking for help with school work and playing with everyone in general. For Jeremy, there wasn’t a significant difference in the ratings between the children (even though they varied I couldn’t detect a pattern) but the girl in the pink shirt and the girl in the head scarf appeared to rate lower in general for both Jeremy and Damian. Damian even said that he didn’t think the women with the head scarf would have any of the jobs and Jeremy said “Yeah, me too”. Damian was more likely to feel comfortable saying hello to and playing with boys. Jeremy and Damian chose boys as most likely to have the higher paying occupations of scientist, astronaut and prime minister.

I asked Damian why he chose boys for specific occupations and he said the jobs were “a better fit” for them but he couldn’t explain further. I asked if he thought boys were smarter than girls and he said “No”. I said “Do you think women could do those jobs?” and he said “Yes”. I told Damian and Jeremy that they are among the very privileged in this world. They are treated better because they are boys, have white skin and are well-off financially. They are less privileged than some white boys because they have a disability (autism) but are still treated very well. I explained that even though we don’t mean to we tend to treat some people better based on sex, skin colour (Jeremy thought it was wrong to say ‘black people’ but I mentioned that many black people are proud of being referred to as ‘black people’), how much money they earn and if they are disabled or not. The questionnaire showed that to be true for them too even though they thought it was important in general to treat everyone equally.

In response to the boys being very privileged Damian said “People in America are richer than us!”. This reminded me of a youtube video that I had watched with the boys before, which pointed out the wealth disparity in America and we watched it again. I showed Damian that a lot of people are poor in America. Jeremy began to realise and say that it was probably the people who were treated worse who were poorest and he specifically mentioned women. He then extrapolated to black people and disabled people (obviously there are many other disadvantaged groups and I will eventually add them all in, in everyday discussions recently we watched this video). I asked if we should blame people for being poor and they both adamantly agreed that we shouldn’t and it was because we treated them worse (they preferred the cup half empty approach then cup half full i.e. treat them worse and not treat us better). I didn’t really know how to discuss what we should do to change this besides being aware and trying to be nicer (pretty pathetic really, but at least a start).

The creation of the questionnaire was inspired by privilege checklists that I came across on the internet when searching for ways to explain privilege to my boys. Another day I will translate one or two of these lists for the boys to build on what they have learnt today.

 

 

 

 

Fairness, anxiety and disability

After the annual ‘Ride to School Day’ (where I fell off my scooter) our school introduced a monthly ‘Ride to School Day’. Jeremy, Damian and I have participated in it several times since (with me on a bike not a scooter). Each time that we have done it has been somewhat stressful for me (and my boys but they still insist on doing it) not because of the risk of injury but because of the risk of meltdowns. What usually happens is that one boy insists he wants to turn around and go home and the other boy insists he must and will go on.

Although, my boys have many strengths they also have some challenges due to their unique autistic traits. Traits that make participating in events that test their endurance more challenging than for many other children. Jeremy has anxieties around order, routine and doing things the ‘right way’. Damian has many anxieties about things he perceives to be dangerous and has greater sensitivity to touch, pain and internal discomfort. Regardless, of how their challenges affect them on these events they insist on doing the ‘Ride to School Day’ anyway.

This morning, Damian initially said he didn’t want to do the ride, which was fine by me. I said reassuring “That’s fine your Dad can drive you to school with the school bags”. Of course, as soon as he realised that he had the choice he changed his mind and with a sharp intake of breath I said “Are you sure? I don’t want you to come if you are going to complain the whole way.” He was sure.

So off we went and the usual challenges ensued. Damian scratched his leg on the bike pedal (no broken skin) and stopped to whine about it, both boys kept trying to overtake one another and got upset about whose turn it was to lead and Jeremy complained about tired legs but ten seconds later was riding too close to Damian saying he was going too slow. I had offered 3 tokens (to add to their reward charts) for a ride without complaints and reminded them to good effect until…

50 metres before the bridge Damian stopped and refused to go any further. It was a very well-built wooden bridge with thick wooden pylons and planks. I’ve never seen a more sturdy looking wooden bridge before but it was high up over a body of water (an inlet) and from a distance may have looked imposing. We had all crossed this bridge many times before. In fact, before, it had been Jeremy and not Damian who was nervous about it.

Damian insisted he wanted to go home. I offered another token for crossing but to no avail. I explained how safe it was and how he had crossed it many times before but fear was resolutely setting in. I recognised that Damian had passed the limits of effective coaxing and external motivators. I could have offered him 20 tokens and scientific evidence from a construction engineer and it wouldn’t have made any difference.

I tried going on ahead without him. I thought, if he sees Jeremy and I on the bridge he might realise it is safe. I even jumped up and down to illustrate the point that it was safe. It didn’t work. I called Andrew on my mobile phone and he suggested I carry him across. However, the idea of it only intensified his feelings (I guess carrying him would make him even higher off the ground). I thought if we go back home we will be very late for school and Jeremy will refuse to go back anyway and become just as upset as Damian so I had no other option.

I told Damian that I was going to have to carry him against his will because we had to go to school and that he would never have to cross that bridge again after that. I picked him up and carried him to the bridge. Once on the bridge, I put him down knowing that finding that nothing awful was happening it would reassure him a little. He was still very anxious but I held his hand and he walked with me while I constantly reassured him until we got to the other side.

Jeremy had been so helpful just by being understanding and patient and I told him as much and how much easier it made things for me. However, when we got to the school and I confirmed that they’d both be getting their full quota of tokens, Jeremy was less understanding. Jeremy didn’t think it was fair that Damian could complain so much about the bridge but still get just as many tokens as him. Jeremy is very insistent upon what he considers as fairness.

Fortunately, I had explained to Jeremy before about Damian’s anxieties and how it made things harder for him and how we had to be understanding of his disability (not penalize him for it). Crossing that bridge was extremely difficult for him but he did it, so he gets the tokens. His complaints were expressions of great distress in this case and therefore didn’t count. Jeremy knew how distressed he was. In the future, it would just be Jeremy and I doing the ‘Ride to School Day’*.

Anyhow, now it is clear to me that I need to have a bigger discussion with Jeremy (and Damian) of what it means to be privileged (not just disability) and the social model of disability so that he can challenge his perception of fairness. Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it goes.

*we can’t avoid a bridge on the way to school, the alternative way includes a road bridge and Damian is equally terrified of riding on the road.