Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Something Special

I occasionally find myself half-watching a bit of kids TV - it's unavoidable, unfortunately! The other day a programme called 'Something Special - Out and About' caught my attention. It featured a presenter - a children's TV comic - who goes out and about with a disabled child or two. Having looked the programme up on the BBC's website I've discovered it's made primarily for disabled children, their parents, teachers and carers. But nevertheless my eldest, who's four, found it interesting and amusing; he likes the comic, whose clown persona, Mr Tumble, he knows from a couple of other programmes.

This particular disabled child was in a wheelchair and looked as if he had cerebral palsy. I immediately thought of Joey Deacon, a man with cerebral palsy (or spastic as we called it then) who appeared on Blue Peter. Wikipedia explains what happened:
He was presented as an example of a man who achieved a lot in spite of his disabilities. However, despite the positive light in which the programme's editor was trying to present his story, the impact was not as intended. The sights and sounds of Joey's distinctive speech and movements had a lasting impact on young viewers, who quickly learnt to imitate them. Joey's name and mannerisms quickly became a label of ridicule in school playgrounds across the country.

It seemed funny at the time. God, kids are horrid.

However, I wondered whether 'Something Special' might be more successful at normalising disability as it was starting on its audience young, appearing in a slot for four- to seven-year olds. I asked my son what he thought about the boy who'd appeared that week. He didn't know what I might be referring to. So I asked him what he thought was wrong with him and he replied,"I think the schoolboy had to stay in his buggy because he broke his leg".

I wonder whether early exposure to seeing children with cerebral palsy doing everyday things and having the sort of fun he'd like to have will mean he'll grow up to regard disability as the equivalent of, say, a sports injury? Or as he gets older will he morph into one of those children from the '70s who think seeing someone on TV with cerebral palsy provides good material for a joke? If kids are educated young enough can they be made to behave better? I guess I'll find out in a few years...


worm said...

oh poor Joey Deacon! I used to pride myself on my amazingly accurate 'Joey' impression, which I kept in reserve to unleash at opportune moments, such as every single time someone else in class got a question wrong.

Gaw said...

It was appalling wasn't it? But when I read your comment and I laughed I hope I was laughing at the child inopportunely doing the impression rather than the impression itself.

Gadjo Dilo said...

My guess is that, yes, if kids are educated young enough can they be made to behave better, and if you, as parents, handicap them slightly then they'll feel the necessary empathy all the more quickly!

Sean said...

"If kids are educated young enough can they be made to behave better?"

Another half truthism. As a general rule I would say No.

Thinking about your Scrunton post the other day I was pondering the difference between Knowledge and experience. And I think they are very distinctive things, knowledge has to relate to experience to be transformed into something useful.

This is why I think children from 2 parent families do a heap better that those who are not. Those kids communicate better thus their knowledge is transformed into the real world easier, quicker and earlier.

Personally I like to see children in homes with animals, if a child can treat pet correctly they will treat humans better. It seem to me children that don't tend to be less confident and prone to allergies.

I love these nature/nurture debates, you can really get under the hood of peoples minds. I especially like it when the Guardian crowd come to visit, I usually start with " a dog is 99.8% a wolf, is a dog really a wolf?", then I send in the Westies to lick them to death.

But then again I am as much in the dark as I was before my wifes 4 proto- humans came to visit.

Anonymous said...

A couple of months ago I told my two nephews (ages 12 and 10) about the whole Joey Deacon episode and what it was to be a 'Joey' at my school. Also (I hang my head in shame) gave them my excellent impression of Joey. They were both genuinely shocked that I could be so cruel and I felt a little ashamed. They still look at me and shake their heads disapprovingly at any mention of Mr Deacon. And it was dreadful that we mocked him so mercilessly at school. But I still can't help smiling when I think back to the political incorrectness of it all. When I am feeling particularly rebellious I will use 'Joey' as an expletive while I am driving. Not when my nephews are in the car of course. I hate being scolded by children.

Vern said...

I didn't actually know Joey Deacon was a real person until I went to university and encountered a few students who were 3-4 years older than me. I was shocked. I had always believed he was a purely mythical 'spaz', one of Plato's ideal forms.

As for exposure to the disabled enlightening future generations of kids, I am doubtful. I think Golding hit the nail on the head in Lord of the Flies. On the other hand, impersonations of the likes of Mr. Deacon may be criminalised and offending kids hauled before the courts.

By the way, the word verification for this comment is 'mongers'. Just thought I'd point it out.

Gaw said...

The small bits and pieces of evidence suggest that improvement is possible. Who'd have thought it?

(BTW I've noticed word verification can have a sense of humour - the philosophical implications of this development I'll leave to Thought Experiments, if it returns)

Gifts UK said...

The prestenter Justin Fletcher sounds like such a lovely man who has worked hard to try and bridge the gap between abled and disabled children. My daughter is 3 and like your son doesn't see a difference between herself and the children on something special. As you said I guess we will have to wait and see if he has managed to make a difference but I believe is is doing a very good. I don't remember the Joey Deacon Blue Peter story, it's very sad that Blue Peters idea to make children aware didn't work.