Disability awareness must start in schools

Today, 3 May 2016 (print edition)

I was 12 years old when I first discovered I had Tourette syndrome. At the time, I did not know the name of this condition, and I was a frightened young man. My parents thought that I was possessed, my teachers found me a nuisance, and my schoolmates even made fun of me.

I survived all that. Discovering that my condition had a name when I was 27 years old helped me understand it. Today, my parents have more or less accepted it, while others choose not to discuss it.

The world at large is not so forgiving, and I am stared at a lot. Kids snigger at me. Unkind comments are made. Sometimes it hurts, but as an adult looking towards the next half century of my life, this does not matter. What is important is that we do not let our children go through a similar experience.

What concerns me is that today, there are kids who have “invisible disabilities” such as autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or sensory integration disorder.

Do our children, parents and teachers know about these conditions, and why some children are different from others? Do we know how to explain the differences?

Everyone is different. But how are those who are especially different — using a wheelchair, making unusual noises — treated in school? Are they accepted in school? How do the parents teach their children to respond in such situations? How do the children feel about it?

My conversations with educators, doctors and parents often have one common refrain: That our mainstream education system can be a negative experience for our children with disabilities.

The approach by some schools can feel cursory, and there is no requirement for disability awareness education in schools’ curriculum.

We need the authorities to make disability awareness education in schools compulsory, and provide the schools with adequate training and resources. This is something that must be taught at a young age, if we want our children to live in a better place.

Nicholas Aw
President
Disabled People’s Association

*****

Read the unedited longer version of his letter here: https://disabledpeoplesassociation.wordpress.com/2016/05/03/disability-awareness-must-start-in-schools/

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