A Kinder and More Caring Society? Let’s Start with Our Children
Posted on May 29, 2019 by All In
Here is a word from one of All In’s founder Daniel Tan, who is currently the Honorary Assistant Secretary of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS). He is also the Chairman of the Residential and Community-based Care Services Committee.
In this article, Daniel shares his thoughts about how parents can encourage their children to be unconsciously kinder and more caring towards persons with special needs in our community.
As with most parents, I hope my children can grow up to be kind people who care about those around them. In particular, after many years volunteering in the special needs sector, I would like my children to be able to see persons with special needs for who they are instead of the special needs they have.
This, I realized, is not an easy task. I have tried to introduce my 7-year-old son to the concept of special needs but to be honest, I’m not sure how successful I’ve been. I’ve tried bringing him along with me when I attend events organized by the charity I volunteer at and taking the opportunity to raise his awareness about persons with special needs. But I’m not sure how much he was able to understand each time. I’ve tried showing him articles about persons with special needs in the newspapers and taking the opportunity to discuss the articles with him. But each time he just listens for a few seconds and then continues doing his own thing, without saying anything.
What Can We Do?
We talk about building an inclusive society for persons with special needs and the government has launched many initiatives, such as a 5-year public education campaign.
But what does such an inclusive society really mean? To me, an inclusive society is not only one where persons with special needs are able to live, learn, work, and participate in all aspects of society meaningfully and with dignity, but also one where they are treated with kindness by everyone.
So what can we do to build such a society?
I think that it is important for our children to grow up learning how to interact with persons with special needs and to see them for who they are, and this is one way we can start.
Introduce Discussions with Fictional Characters and Real People
I’ve had the opportunity to talk at a primary school and a kindergarten to introduce students to the topic of disability.
I talked about movies like Finding Nemo (Nemo has an undersized fin), Finding Dory (Dory has short-term memory loss) and How to Train Your Dragon (Hiccup has a prosthetic leg while Toothless has a prosthetic tail fin). I introduced Julia from Sesame Street who has autism. I also introduced artworks by aleXsandro Palombo who portrayed Disney princesses with disabilities.
I also discussed the strengths that persons with disabilities in Singapore showed, including Chia Yong Yong who was a Nominated Member of Parliament and Jason Chee who won multiple gold medals in the ASEAN Para Games.
I hope that these talks had created opportunities for the teachers to continue conversations with their students on how to treat persons with special needs they come across. But while schools can play a part, I believe we parents have a much more significant influence over our children. It would be great if we take the first step by introducing and initiating the discussion to our children in our homes, without waiting for schools to do so.
By introducing the topic with characters or real life persons, we are more likely to engage the children’s interest and it would be easier for them to relate to people with special needs as just people.
Don’t Leave, Stay and Play
For the last few years, since I started trying to introduce my son to the concept of special needs, I’ve been thinking hard about how I can conduct the conversations with him and I just came across this article by Amy Webb. She is the mother of a child with special needs and she has developed some really good suggestions for navigating these conversations with our children.
When we are out with our children and see persons with special needs, and our children end up pointing at them, how often do we just shiver in embarrassment, quickly pull their hands down, scold them for doing that, and then drag them away? I’ll admit that would be my natural instinct. How our children behave is a reflection of us as parents and I wouldn’t want to be judged negatively.
Instead of quickly running away, Amy encourages us to stay.
– Stay and have a conversation. Allow our children to ask questions.
– Explain that some people are born differently. If convenient, invite our children to introduce themselves.
– Correct them for pointing, laughing, or staring.
– Highlight that they’re the same in certain ways and have strengths in different ways.
Some parents of children with special needs may be concerned about bringing their children out for fear of how other children may react. If we as parents can help our children learn to be kind to others, whether abled or differently abled, these parents may become more comfortable to bring their children to places such as the playgrounds, parks, or shopping malls.
Let’s Start With Our Children
It’s sad to read about the many challenges that persons with special needs face in our society, and how they are being treated by the rest of us every day.
One example is Mr and Mrs Ong who are both blind and struggling to raise their family. It was not only challenging for Mr Ong to look for employment. Upon finding employment, Mr Ong had to deal with years of derogatory remarks from co-workers. Mrs Ong worries about being knocked down by a car every time she picks up her seven-year-old son from school, as she had a few narrow escapes. Once, she almost bumped into another pedestrian who scolded her for not looking where she was going. Another time, she was asked why she would have children when she was blind.
I hope that by starting with our children’s generation, we can slowly change the society to a kinder and more caring one towards persons with special needs in our community.