I want to become a photographer when I grow up. I know how to take photographs. When time comes, I will capture the lifestyle and cultures of different people in digital images.
That is the statement from a 13-year-old Clement Belun, an autistic boy with a big dreams. I got in touch with him through a paediatrician, who dedicated his life to help special needs children and to help parents to cope and help their children who has disabilities. I sat down with Clement one day to get to know him better.
Meeting children is a very interesting experience. You will never know what they going to say or do. Whatever that is, I just go with the flow and let them do their stuff. That is why children make a very good photography (in my opinion). It is very exciting to meet children, but never nervous, but to meet Clement that day, honestly, I was a bit nervous.
Don’t get me wrong, I was eager to meet him, but he was the first autistic child I’ve ever talked to. I have all these questions in my head – Am I able to communicate with him? Will he talk to me? Will he able to understand my questions? Is the interview going to be a success? The questions went on and on. (Talking of thinking and worry too much).
I was glad to see his grandfather there when we were introduced to one another. But, I was hoping to be able to talk to the boy, because I wanted to hear what he had to say to me. I have to admit, it was difficult at first, but a few minutes later, everybody started to get comfortable and the interview went smoothly.
Clement didn’t always look me in the eyes, but I know, all that he said… they were genuine. Straight from the heart. Special needs children don’t lie, or at least, to my understanding, they don’t know how to lie. That is why I am very sure that Clement was being very honest and very confident too. He stuttered a few times and tried to get the words out sometimes though. The interview went for more than an hour and the few final answers he gave was ‘Yes, I like to be a leader.’ He said it with such confidence.
Here comes a question. What makes them so special? Sometimes I ask myself. Is it because of their disabilities? Majority of us never give much thoughts to the special needs children. We never know why they are called ‘special needs children’. The only picture we have in our mind is because they have the disabilities. We were taught to see that picture when we were in school. “Who are the special needs children?” a teacher ask. “They are children with disabilities”, a student may answer.
That perception is true, nobody say it is wrong. It is in fact VERY TRUE in my country. They need a lot of help and a lot of effort to be able stand on their feet one day. We keep saying the road to success is long and uphill climb. For them, not only it is long and uphill climb, it is a lot more rockier than sometimes…muddy (if i put it correctly). That is why they never follow our pace, because they can’t. They need a helping hand, they need people to walk side by side with them.
Everyone has the potential in doing something. The only way to prove that, is through opportunity.
So what makes them so special? Is it because of their disabilities? Or is it because they show and teach us, people who have most of the advantages in this life to see the world in a different way? The world that they see might be the world that we need to experience. A world that is growing in love, instead of hate, a world that everybody is equal, no matter what you do in life. To be able see our own self that we never seen before. To learn and get to know our own self. It required a great teacher for normal people to be able to see that. How they show us? Just by walking side by side with them.
While we teach them to be independent, they also teach us to lead a simple life.
Remember, their roads are rockier than ours. Our paces are too fast for them. Their pace, never too slow, never too fast. The exact pace that enable people to see the different kinds of trees and beautiful flowers from both sides. To listen to the singing of nature. Their simple life only requires one thing; being happy no matter what they are doing.
Life could be tough at times. Think about them? they have a tougher life. The family with special needs people knew exactly how tough it can be. A mother from Taiwan sat by the road side and just cried. Her son was beside him, looking at her mother, not knowing what actually happened. That boy has a down syndrome. She had been sending her son to almost every school in the city. But none wanted to accept him. All but one.
When you have a child with disability, that is very upsetting and you do learn that the dreams of your child changed, and then your dreams and your aspirations as well.
It is a lot of grief. Around the same time we got the diagnosis, my parents passed away, but the grief associated with the living child is far greater than losing both my parents.
An Australian woman never let her autistic daughter crush her, instead, she used them to support and help other parents with autistic children. Things could be a lot different if her daughter was not autistic, but she is glad to have child with autism and would not change a thing if given a chance.
I’m so glad I got it. I’ve learned so much about myself and human behaviour having a child with disabilities.
Some asked, why are they like that? Why do they exist in this world? My answer. How can they not? They exist just like we existed. They are here, just like how we are here. if you take time to know them better, you will see that children with special needs are just like everybody else. They want to be independent, they want to have fun, only that they need extra help to catch up with our pace.
They are aware of the world that we are living in, just like normal people do. However, because of their disabilities, they need longer time to process the information inside their heads. Once getting to know them, realize that they live a very genuine life. Do they have worries? I have no idea. But once they are happy, they just love everybody, If we gave them the opportunity to be happy. Which means, place ourselves in their hearts. They’ll accept it.
We used the term ‘Golden Child’ because children with special needs are very loving children and very special. You will know how loving they are once you get to know them.
Getting to know them required us spending time together with them, and they with us, and they with other normal children. Experts believed that mixing the special needs children and normal children is a very healthy activity. In fact, it is a good education for both children. I believe that is very true. Only this way, the special needs children would learn how to mix around, and normal children learn about respect and love.
Our teachers teach them to love through stories every day. They reminded them, that because of certain factors, some of their classmates need their help. They love helping the special needs children. I believe it is the ‘Wow, I have the ability to help them’ kind of enthusiasm that drawn them to help their classmates.
This shows that inclusive education is so important. Realizing the importance of early childhood education, UNICEF and many other NGOs and charity bodies are fighting that inclusive education to be implemented as national policy. (unfortunately, it is still not happening in my country).
Article 24 of the UN Convention stipulates that persons with disabilities shall not be excluded from the general education system on the basis of disabilities. This has also been enacted in Clause 28 of the Malaysian Persons with Disabilities Act 2008.
Would it be great to see everybody, including those with special needs go for a family outing together, playing games together, supporting and cheering one another to win a game? A rare occasion but a good avenue for them to interact with one another. Those dedicated their lives to this children realized the importance of playing therapy. They believed the children learned from playing.
A girl with downs’ syndrome sang ‘Your Raise Me Up’ during the welcoming dinner of the National Early Childhood Intervention (NECIC) about six months ago. She sang it in front of hundreds of people in that room. Believe me, many shed their tears from that one performance only.
If we allowed ourselves to know them better, they’ll give us their loving heart. If we allowed ourselves to have a place in their heart, they’ll showed us their hardships, their passion and dreams. You can’t change the whole world when you do that, but for sure your act can create a better world for them. Don’t you want this in life? I know I do. I believe they deserve to have a place in this world. They deserve to live a life like most of us do.
(STAY TUNED FOR PICTURES IN PART TWO)
PS: Sorry for the long overdue updates.