By Nicholas Aw
I was 12 years old when I first discovered I had Tourette Syndrome. At that time there was no name to this condition and I was a frightened young man. My parents thought I was possessed, my teachers found me a nuisance and my schoolmates made fun of me.
I survived all that. Subsequently, I found out that my condition had a name when I was 27 years old. That helped me to discover more about my condition. Today my parents have more or less accepted it, my teachers do not talk about it and my schoolmates generally do not speak about it but some still look at me, bewildered.
The world at large however is not so forgiving and I do get stared at, a lot. Kids will snigger at me, sometimes unkind comments are made.
Some find me interesting and some find me amusing, others don’t care. Sometimes it hurts but as an adult looking towards the next half century of my life, it does not matter anymore. What is important now is we must not let our children go through something similar. It’s not difficult, or is it ?
What concerns me today in particular are our kids who have what you call invisible disabilities. Who are they ? Some notable ones are ASD, ADHD, ADD, SID. These disabilities have a name and you would think that being able to put a name to it, much can be done.
Do our children know this ? Do our teachers and parents know why some children are different from others? How do we explain the differences to the children, teachers and parents?
Everyone is different.
Some tall, some short.
Some big, some small.
Some have straight hair, some have curly hair.
Some have fair skin, some have dark skin.
The list is endless, but in addition;
Some need to use a wheelchair to get about.
Some have difficulties reading.
Some make unusual noises.
Some make unusual movements.
How are they treated in school? Are they accepted in school? How do the parents manage their children? How do the children feel about it?
My conversations with educators, doctors and parents often have one common denominator, that our education system can be toxic for our children with disabilities.
It is opined to be toxic because the experience of students with disabilities with school professionals and their peers can be quite negative. Anecdotal accounts of parents are consistent with such experiences. Schools often provide a cursory approach as there is no place for compulsory education of disability awareness in the school’s curriculum.
What we need is for the authorities to make disability awareness in schools compulsory and provide the schools with adequate training and resources. Disability awareness is important and we have to start right at the beginning if we want our children to live in a better place.
Read the shortened published version of his letter here.
Nicholas Aw is the President of the Disabled People’s Association. He is a lawyer who has Tourette Syndrome.