Two weeks ago, at theatre camp, a girl ripped one of Eila’s books, bit people, and ruined the final play by running across the stage in every scene moaning delightedly, “I’m scared.” The following week, at a different camp, a boy kept sneaking up on Eila and shouting into her ear; at one point he also grabbed her. Both kids made her miserable. She did have a good time at theatre camp — she always does — but she didn’t enjoy the other camp at all. Every morning she told me she was too frightened to go back.
I have no idea to what extent these children’s problems are caused by their parents or by chemical imbalances. I don’t want to cast blame or give advice. But when I was told by other mothers that their kids were also scared or mad, and by counselors that these two kids had “special needs,” I started to wonder once again about this particular oversized euphemistic umbrella. When “special needs” – which carries with it the ethos of integration – means kids can learn that a person with cerebral palsy is just as smart as they are or that a kid with downs syndrome can be a fun guy, it’s marvelous. When it means that a whole camp group is on edge for a week, I’m not so sure about it. It is not clear to me that these two children benefited from the integration, and there’s no doubt at all that their presence made Eila less tolerant and caring, rather than more.