I swore that I would never do an “open letter” type of blog post. I hate them. They always read and feel awkward to me and sorta give the impression that the blogger has an inflated sense of being or importance. I can tell you that is not the case here. I realize I am just one special needs mom in one small town. I don’t expect anyone to listen, though I am passionate about helping special needs parents find the words to advocate for their children in the IEP process. And, frankly, a letter just seemed fitting for this topic. A blog post with the title of “why Tim Tebow’s idea is well intended but stupid” just doesn’t have a nice flow to it. So here goes.
In case you haven’t heard, last night Tim Tebow paid for 100 special needs proms across the nation. The events were funded by the Tim Tebow Foundation, were held at over 200 churches and centered on “God’s Love.”
First, for the kids who attended….I hope you had fun, I truly do. You probably did have fun. A night out, getting dressed up, socializing and dancing with friends…I attend many events in my community for special needs families.
But here’s the thing–why can’t you go to your school’s prom? Assuming that they have one, not all do. This idea is well-intended, but stupid. If this is an adult dance or social with a Christian theme….then please just call it that. Because going to an actual high school prom is one of those social goals and ideas that many families have–and that many families unfortunately do not achieve due to either the student not feeling included or not being invited. And that’s not ok. I have seen so many special needs parents beam with pride and say “My child is going to the PROM!” and be so happy. This is just like giving a trophy to everyone…takes away the special-ness of receiving a trophy. And our kids deserve trophies. I’ll never stop fighting for that.
First, I have nothing against the event. If you want to host a nationwide night of God’s Love…hey, knock yourself out. Seriously. If you want to have a social evening for kids (with special needs) to get dressed up, come to your church and celebrate God’s Love, do it. But please don’t use the word prom and hijack that event. This was not a prom. We all have an idea in our head of what a traditional prom is….and this ain’t it. (and I’ve since learned it was mostly adults, not kids, which is even more confusing for me??)
Because here’s the thing. Kids (and adults) with disabilities are the last marginalized population on the planet. They already experience discrimination is so many ways I couldn’t even begin to list them all. And all that you’ve done on a large-scale basis is perpetuate that and give the celebrity OK that it’s fine to do this. The message that you’ve sent is “special needs kids should be segregated and likely won’t go to the regular prom.”
How many non-disabled teenagers are there out there, who have a friend with special needs? Not a buddy, not a community service project, but a true friend? My guess based on personal experiences….not many.
You say you are “committed to celebrating people with special needs.” Do you mean segregating? Because that is what you’ve done. On a large scale, too, by your own admission. Let our kids decide for themselves. Not every kid (special needs or not) wants to go to the prom. And that’s ok. But let us decide. Please don’t have a patronizing event that (my best guess) is so that they can be exposed to your proselytism under the guise of prom. Call it what it is. (and this doesn’t even begin to address non-Christians wanting to attend and feel welcome…yet another example of exclusion)
Among some of the challenges of special needs parenting is that many parents do struggle with religious upbringing with a special needs child. Like everything else, it can and often does look different for our families. There is a need there, and it looks like you have the interest in that topic. So why add “prom” to it all? Why not just call it what it is?
Because when you segregate our kids like this and make national news, you make it ok. How, exactly, does this celebrate people with special needs? Why aren’t you breaking down barriers so that the discrimination ends? We know our kids are awesome, we don’t need you to tell us. What we do need is to be accepted into regular society, and right now, we’re not. I don’t want you to feel sorry for us and have this patronizing event….I want our kids to be invited with open arms to the regular prom. The special needs community does need help–we are struggling. We have high unemployment, high imprisonment rates, high rates of living in poverty, high rates of bullying….and all this stems from a lack of understanding.
What are you doing to help non-disabled people understand us? How does segregation help with this? Have you ever even heard of inclusion?
I’ll end on that note–inclusion. Inclusion, when done properly, works. It enhances the lives of both disabled people and non-disabled–both are better for it, we know that. So my one request to you….instead of “celebrating the lives of people with special needs” why not change your focus to inclusion? Because that’s what we really need.
Is to be included.
Author’s note: If you attended (or your child did), you needn’t feel personally attacked by this post. That’s not the intent. But until I regularly see teen magazines that do prom issues featured disabled models, or until I see a “prom fashions” segment on tv with disabled models….and it’s not national news because it’s so every day, I’ll keep saying that it’s not ok to segregate.
I’m receiving quite a bit of angry comments and angry email. I won’t be responding to them. And, I still stand by my assertion–that this event, but using a celebrity name and the word ‘prom’ sends a message that it’s ok to segregate our kids (and in some ways, that we are to be pitied). Because the word prom usually brings to mind teens, not older adults (who I understand attended many of the events). You were there–you saw what it was. That is exactly my point–not the whole world was. Everyone else just hears “special needs prom” on TV….and will make the same assumptions that I did and more. Most importantly, that segregation is ok. So if it’s a nice event, great. Don’t call it a ‘special needs prom.’ That is what the website says it is. If it truly was an inclusive event, it shouldn’t be news-worthy.
Comments have now been disabled and deleted to me receiving 4 comments which were direct attacks on me. Rather than pick and choose what got deleted, it’s all gone. Sorry that some can not have a constructive discussion without calling me names. I’m not being close-minded or limiting your free speech–you are still free to say whatever you want. However I am not required to provide the forum and the bandwidth.
I have written a follow up post, you can read it here.