Charity drops 'spastic' in new name

Spastic Children's Association re-brands itself as Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore

The Spastic Children's Association of Singapore has changed its name to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore. It is the latest charity serving the disabled to re-brand itself with a more politically correct name.

The 56-year-old charity, which runs a special education school and other services for those afflicted with cerebral palsy, made the switch in mid-April.

Corporate communications manager Melissa Shepherdson told The Sunday Times the change came about after parents' feedback that the word "spastic" was derogatory. "We want to protect our clients' dignity," she said.

It has also applied to the Ministry of Education (MOE) to change the name of its Spastic Children's Association School to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School.

Cerebral palsy is a condition where brain damage impairs muscle control and movement. It can result in symptoms such as weak muscles, walking difficulties and learning problems. Spasticity refers to muscle stiffness, a common feature of cerebral palsy.

The word spastic, used to refer to a person with cerebral palsy, was not laden with negative connotations in the 1950s, when the charity was founded, going by various reports on the word's definition.

But it has since degenerated into an insult used to describe someone as stupid and clumsy.

For this reason, charities overseas have dropped the word and adopted new names.

For instance, the Spastics Society in the United Kingdom changed its name to Scope, a term that does not stand for anything, in 1994.

Two years ago, the Spastic Centre in Australia became the Cerebral Palsy Alliance.

In Singapore, the charity decided on the word "alliance" as its beneficiaries include those with other conditions, such as autism and Down syndrome.

As today's parents are more mindful of politically correct language, many special education schools catering to disabled children have in the past decade coined new names that make no reference to disability, or dropped the word "special".

Ms June Tham, executive director of Rainbow Centre, said: "Some parents feel that the word 'special' is a stigma and gives the impression that the child is abnormal. We know that some parents reject their children or are ashamed of them, and using negative words reinforces their negative feelings."

In 2006, its Margaret Drive Special School became Rainbow Centre-Margaret Drive School, and Balestier Special School is now Rainbow Centre-Yishun Park School, following its move to Yishun.

Still, Ms Denise Phua, Member of Parliament and president of the Autism Resource Centre (ARC), feels that charities have to do more than institute a name change.

She said: "Positive names project a more positive initial impression, but unless the staff quality and curriculum reflect the name, the positive effect cannot be sustained."

The ARC worked with the Autism Association Singapore to re-brand its Singapore Autism School into Eden School in 2008. It did not want the school to be known just as an autism school, but one inspired by the Garden of Eden where its fruits give life, she said.

Other groups that have adopted new names include Singapore School for the Visually Handicapped. It became Lighthouse School in 2008, after it started accepting deaf and autistic children as well.

In 2000, the Association for Educationally Subnormal Children became the Association for Persons with Special Needs. It runs special education schools for children with mild intellectual disabilities.

The Cerebral Palsy Alliance's beneficiaries have cheered its new name. It serves about 650 people, from children receiving therapy to adults in its day care service.

Housewife Bonnie Cheang, 60, whose stepdaughter Kara, 21, is working in its sheltered workshop, said: "I prefer the new name as once you mention the word 'spastic', people would immediately think your child is abnormal and that is hurtful to parents."