Not Special Needs, Just Human Needs

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June, 2017

We are more than ready to describe children as having "special needs". CoorDown National Coordination of Associations of People with Down syndrome has created a short film for this year's World Down Syndrome Day. The video humorously challenges our preconception are these needs really so "special"?

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The video opens with an article entitled "People with Down syndrome have special needs", followed by a girl with Down syndrome who looks into the camera and questions in a sincere but surprised tone, "Special needs? Really?" The ridiculous scenarios that come after reveal her idea of "special needs", for example...

If people with Down syndrome needed to eat dinosaur eggs... "If people with Down syndrome needed to eat dinosaur eggs..."
If we needed to wear a giant suit of armour... "If we needed to wear a giant suit of armour..."
If we needed to be massaged by a cat... "If we needed to be massaged by a cat..."

The girl concludes, "That (eating dinosaur eggs, having kitten massage, shopping in armour etc.) would be special. But what we really need is education, jobs, opportunities, friends and some love just like everybody else. Are these needs special? These are human needs, not special needs."

Not special needs, just human needs Not special needs, just human needs

Wong Lai Ming is a member of the Hong Kong Joint Council of Parents of the Mentally Handicapped and her thirty-year-old daughter has intellectual and mild physical disabilities. "We have been labelled for having special needs for years. When she was small, she couldn't catch up with others and was admitted to a special school. Over the nine years there, we have met many schoolmates with different levels of abilities – ranging from physical, to sensory or intellectual – and such variances can hardly be summed up by a single word 'special'."

She feels rather uneasy about the word, "'Special' can be neutral or affirmative in English; but not so much in Chinese because the word has a pejorative connotation." She understands that these children need extra assistance, but they also yearn for help in a fair and unpatronising manner.

"Not necessarily special help, but help that can be of use to everyone. For instance, students with hand spasticity cannot push open washroom doors in shopping malls and can only wait for others to come to their aid. You can go over to give a hand of course, but if there are more barrier-free facilities available, they will be able to manage without asking for help. It is very important that these facilities can enhance their self-esteem in everyday life while being of use to others without disabilities."

"My daughter may have more hurdles to overcome but, instead of being taken care of all the time, she wants the opportunities to demonstrate her abilities and live a fair and independent life. As a matter of fact, she and her friends can go a long way with simple instructions and training for most of the time. Yet, they are not so strong in communication and most people do not care enough to try to understand," says Wong Lai Ming.

Wendy Leung, Service Manager of St. James' Settlement Uncle James Child Development Centre, also resonates with the video. While the short clip features people with Down syndrome, the rationale of the campaign also applies to other SEN children, such as those with autistic disorder or AD/HD.

Wendy Leung has met a lot of helpless parents whose children are classified as aliens or threats to classroom discipline in schools. "All of us have our own needs and every need is unique. In fact, SEN children have more similarities than differences with other children. Just as the narrator girl says, education, jobs, and friends are not 'special needs' but their pursuits are met with more obstacles. They need assistance but, more importantly, opportunities and respect."

As Wendy Leung recalls, a parent once had to reassure an unacquainted diner who turned teary-eyed because her child had a tantrum in a restaurant. "Most children have moments of temper, just that SEN children can get cranky more easily than others. Parents just want to be treated normally and receive help in times of need, like everybody else. Sometimes, caring can become over-caring and pity can cause stress. The best way, after all, is to treat with composure."

Text: So Mei Chi
Translation: Yoyo Chan

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