My view on inclusion of special needs folk
I am 18 years old and on behalf of the Malaysian Partnership for Children with Disabilities, a recently-formed network of associations and persons who support and work with families of children with disabilities, hope to help raise the voices of children with disabilities to create a more inclusive society.
I would like to talk about Aisyah, who has Down Syndrome. I was five years old when I met her. I liked her a lot as she would always tag along with me. We were three years apart, she was unable to speak and her looks were different. She needed diapers and a bottle for her milk. Still, she was not treated any different from my other friends and me.
We were in the same class for two years. I then moved on to primary school and still kept in touch with her as our mums were friends.
Our friendship brought me pleasure, comfort and distress. Mostly, it taught me a lot about growing up in a social world. Aisyah endured painful experiences like being teased or shamed, but I found her so unique. She was born with a distinct social talent that simply allowed friendships to form. I felt good when I had the opportunity to assist Aisyah or to defend her. I felt like a teacher.
Friendships like ours cannot happen in a typical classroom. But in an inclusive classroom, all children learn to respect differences in each other.
When I was 10 years old, Aisyah was enrolled in the same school as me again, but we hardly saw each other. She was in a special class, in a different building far away. The teachers were not keen on her joining the ‘normal’ class. Every time there was an event, the whole school was invited except the students in Aisyah’s special group.
Now that was totally unfair! They were student’s, too, and wanted to participate in their own way. And this creates awareness among all students about special needs. I felt very sad that the teachers could not see the bright side of Aisyah. She is loving, fun, funny and, when guided, she is able to do her work.
When I see Aisyah and some of her classmates now, I feel that our preschool benefitted us well. I have learnt so much from students like Aisyah: patience, kindness, love and tolerance. Some of these you can only learn when you are faced with them. We learned the basic need for communication and appropriate social skills.
Aisyah had interaction with typically developing children and was accepted by her peers as a ‘typically developing’ individual who can learn with special help. My wish is that all children can experience a programme like ours. This experience would certainly help future generations to accept people with special needs in their community and the word ‘inclusion’ will be more meaningful.
Children with special needs are more like other children than unlike them because all children share the same basic needs: acceptance, care challenges, love and support. As a caregiver and teacher, being aware of every child’s needs will help you provide the best care for children.