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Understanding special children

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By Ravi Philemon

Some years ago when I was teaching in a special needs school, I had a teacher assistant (TA) with Asperger’s Syndrome. She was very motivated in wanting to help the children with disabilities that she and I were teaching.

However,  everything had to be the same routine every day.

But we all know that in life, everything cannot be the same every single day and most people will be able to adapt to the prevailing situation, when there are variations. But my teacher assistant had great difficulties in this area.

I especially remember one incident which happened soon after my TA started helping me.

I had to rearrange my regular timetable a little because of double-booking of the resource room. When my TA came in I told her about it and she started hyperventilating. I soon realised her anxiety, got her to sit down and explained to her in detail how the schedule was going to be on that day. When she was more certain of the sequence of events and the role she is expected to play in it, she calmed down.

My TA was a high-functioning person with special needs, and yet she needed a routine, a structure that she was sure of, to help her cope with the day. Now, can you imagine why structure and routine are important for most persons with disabilities (PWD)?

This is the reason why caregivers and teachers of PWD go to great detail to provide these to their children. From the Picture Exchange Communication System, to the Multi-Sensorial Approach, to Skills Task Analysis, to Storytelling, great thought is put into creating a sense of routine so that these children can learn and grasp concepts better.

For example, for many of us, if we think that our hair is unkempt, we just pick up a comb and start putting our hair back in place. But for some PWD with more severe intellectual disability it is not so simple a task.

You would first have to get him or her to pick up the comb, and then to move the comb which had been picked up to the head, and then to bring it into contact with the hair... It is a long process, which has to be repeated numerous times before the skills are picked up by the PWD.

Here’s another example.

For a person with Down Syndrome who has sleep problems and don’t know how to go back to sleep when he or she wakes up in the middle of the night, the caregiver may have to use story-telling to modify that behaviour.

“The clock on the wall shows 10pm. John goes to bed at 10pm. John wakes up from sleeping. He is not sure if he must go back to sleep. He goes to his window and sees that the sky is dark. John must go back to his bed to sleep.”

That’s just the type of story which a person with Down Syndrome may need to cope with his or her sleeping difficulties.

And that’s one reason why I feel troubled by the protestors of Return My CPF disrupting the performance of PWD at the YMCA’s Proms @ the Park.

I can imagine the hours of training the volunteers at Y Star must have spent, practising the routine with the children of special needs, to prepare them for the performance at Hong Lim Park.

The fact that their child is performing in a public space despite his or her disabilities would also bring tremendous joy and pride to the hearts of their parents.

But all these could have been spoilt by the careless actions of the protesters.

And if they had to restart their performance after the disruption, how did it affect the self-confidence of the performers who are disabled? Did they realise that the performance had to be restarted not because of any fault of theirs?

The Online Citizen has reported that the organisers of the carnival cum charity event have responded to Roy Ngerng that the PWD and their caregivers are not in favour of meeting Roy to receive his apology.

I can certainly understand why.