Early inclusive interaction breeds greater empathy

Over the years, the Government and voluntary welfare organisations have made numerous efforts in raising public awareness about people with special needs.

However, the messages might not have been enough, or they might not have touched the hearts of the majority.

Survey findings reveal an evident need to promote better understanding of children with special needs and to create more opportunities for interaction, so that we can cultivate greater acceptance of those with different abilities in our society ("S'poreans 'don't walk the talk' on special needs kids"; Tuesday).

We need to share more on what an inclusive education can bring to everyone. An inclusive education is not only for the benefit of children with special needs. It also brings all the students together in one classroom, regardless of their strengths or weaknesses, and seeks to maximise their potential.

Studies have shown that interaction with children with special needs prompts typically developing children to become more understanding of their counterparts with special needs, and develop positive attitudes towards them.

When children get to interact with others of different abilities at an early age, they are more likely and willing to accept and include peers with disabilities.

Teachers, parents and caregivers also play an important role in showing the young ones what it means to accept people who may appear different from them and what inclusion means.

We want the next generation of Singaporeans to be brought up with good values and many virtues.

Empathy developed during childhood is likely to carry on throughout their lives. When children grow up in an inclusive environment, they would, in time, become adults who are open, caring and compassionate.

We should continue with efforts that encourage interaction among children with and without special needs. For example, we could build more inclusive playgrounds and pre-schools, where typically developing children learn alongside children with special needs.

In addition, we need to reach out and understand one another better.

We are happy that the National Council of Social Service has echoed SPD president and Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong's call in Parliament for a national disability education campaign, so that we can build a caring and resilient society as one people.

Abhimanyau Pal
Executive Director
SPD (formerly the Society for the Physically Disabled)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2016, with the headline 'Early inclusive interaction breeds greater empathy'. Print Edition | Subscribe