I love to sit down with my partner and watch TV programmes like the Undateables and Special Needs Hotel. For me I see lots of familiar personas and traits similar to the ones I might see at work. For my partner it is light entertainment with some loveable characters. However you look at it these programmes are TV gold for the production companies but are they selling false hope to people who have special needs?
I’ve worked in special education for many years now and taught students with a variety of special needs. It is great to hear from students who left us years ago, some even pop in to say hello. When I hear from ex-students I’m always interested to learn about what they have done since leaving school, although too often this isn’t much. Jobs for adults with special needs are in short supply and tend to be offered by people who have a personal connection to someone with needs in their own life. The special needs hotel is a fantastic venture and one that needs replicating over the country but with recent cuts to government spending you would be lucky to get daycare provision from social care, let alone a sheltered employment or training place. We make a big deal of the qualifications we offer, and the development of employability and life skills because it’s a big world out there and there is competition for every job that comes up. In an ideal world there would be a job for everyone, which is important not just for a earning an income and a sense of self-worth but also for mixing and developing those social skills further.
Boyfriends and girlfriends carry the same sort of desirability as mobile phones. Most of my students know they want one but they aren’t really sure what they are for and don’t know what to do with them if they get one! The Undateables follows the romantic endeavours of adults with learning difficulties but this time they are looking for love with a special needs dating agency. Dates are set up between matched partners and are chaperoned to make sure there is no inappropriate behaviour. Again the way the programme is edited does nothing to suggest that agencies like this as extremely rare and that the majority of special needs adults might not even leave the house or have friends, let alone go out into the big wide world on dates.
As a teacher who deals with special needs students I have mixed feelings about these programmes. On one hand they serve as a source of inspiration to adults with special needs and their families that they can have a normal life and the things the rest of us take for granted. On the other these programmes can give the impression that everyone can find a date or a job for them, which is far from the case.
I’d be interested to hear from readers of my blog what you think but in the meantime I will continue what I’ve always done, making sure my students get the best education they possibly can which includes academic qualifications and the best life skills education we can possibly offer so they can lead as independent a life as possible.