Your Letters

Schoolchildren's attitude towards those with special needs worrying

I am grateful to Mr Bryan Chong for writing about his experience (People with special needs don't deserve rudeness; July 25).

Many parents like myself and teachers in the special needs community have endured countless painful experiences of our children being called "stupid", "mentally unsound", "crazy" and other hurtful terms.

When such remarks come from schoolchildren, there is a risk that they could carry such prejudices into adulthood. The lack of understanding towards people who behave differently is a manifestation of a long neglected problem - that our mainstream children have not been sufficiently exposed to and educated about people with special needs and the value of embracing diversity.

Singapore may claim to be inclusive and point to the fact that about 75 per cent of children with special needs are studying in mainstream schools.

However, individual experiences vary, depending on the school leadership. Satellite partnerships between special education and mainstream schools may also attempt to expose students to the other 25 per cent of children with more challenging needs, but the reality is that such initiatives are lacking both in number and in depth.

Very few schools teach disability awareness or create meaningful opportunities for their students to engage with children with special needs.

Individuals with special needs are neither stupid nor crazy. They behave differently because of their medical conditions and/or developmental challenges.

The special needs community - parents, siblings and professionals - works very hard every day to help these individuals improve, but it needs understanding, acceptance and involvement from the larger community.

Children with and without special needs have things to offer to one another. Every life has an intrinsic value and deserves respect.

To reach this maturity, we need to teach children that during their formative years.

This is as much a school's job as it is a parent's. Let's not wait until it is too late to start.

Swee Bee Lan (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 30, 2017, with the headline 'Schoolchildren's attitude towards those with special needs worrying YourLetters'. Subscribe