Do more to promote acceptance of special needs kids: Murali

Mr Murali suggested ways to address the challenges that special needs children and caregivers face.
Mr Murali suggested ways to address the challenges that special needs children and caregivers face.

More should be done to promote better understanding of special needs children and their challenges, said Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai yesterday.

Singapore prides itself as an inclusive society where race and religion are concerned, and should also work towards being inclusive in the treatment of people with special needs, he added.

He suggested several ways of achieving this, such as making it easier for caregivers to hire help.

Mr Murali made the remarks during his adjournment motion, which allowed him to speak for up to 20 minutes, at his second Parliament sitting since winning the Bukit Batok by-election in May.

Responding, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin agreed that community acceptance of people with disabilities was vital. He cited recent public education efforts, such as the See The True Me campaign by the National Council of Social Service, as positive steps, and agreed with Mr Murali about not relying on laws to build inclusiveness.

"When you legislate, I think it sometimes may get in the way because it forces people to just follow the letter of the law without changing the spirit of it," said Mr Tan.

"It is a change in mindset, a change in climate that we need to effect in our society."

Mr Murali offered suggestions to address the challenges faced by the children and their caregivers, such as:

•training people to better identify people with intellectual disabilities;

•drawing up a code of conduct for helping special needs children that stakeholders, such as school bus operators and pre-schools, can refer to; and

•extending the foreign domestic worker grant and levy concession to caregivers of adults with moderate to severe special needs.

Currently, the grant and levy concession apply mainly to people with physical disabilities, so those with intellectual disabilities may not benefit, Mr Murali told The Straits Times.

He also said the two-year waiting period to get a place in a day activity centre for adults with autism is "too long", adding that "the special needs children... may unlearn what they learnt from school".

Mr Tan, agreeing on the importance of early intervention, said his ministry would continue to expand the number of places and try to shorten waiting times.

He added that the next Enabling Masterplan - a five-year plan to chart the development of policies and services for people with disabilities - aims to address some of the challenges. It is likely to be announced by next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline 'Do more to promote acceptance of special needs kids: Murali'. Print Edition | Subscribe