For some reason, I decided to get in touch with some people I ought to have remained in contact with but didn’t because well, you know, life got in the way.
I called my JC form teacher, who was surprised and pleased to hear from me. She thought that I’d have chucked the birthday card she sent and forgot all about her. “So, are you married yet?”, she asked. Same thing she asked the last time we spoke couple of years ago.
Then I called my kayaking buddy, whose wife gave birth last month, or as he put it, “Yah, yah, good, good, baby come out already”.
Then I bumped into another classmate of mine whom I haven’t seen in a few years, and he still looks the same despite being a father of two young kids. He’s got purple hair, wears colourful long-sleeved shirts and velvet pants. Yes, velvet. (‘Welwet’ to Malaysians who can’t pronounce the letter ‘Wee’).
Then I came home, logged on, and read two wonderful posts by Mr Brown. One about the Pee Sai Lum Pah spat and the other about kids with special needs. I can’t agree more with what he’s written so well. So well that I am compelled to talk a little about what I currently do for a living.
I work with kindergarten to primary school age children, but I am no expert in teaching children with special needs, though I have colleagues who are. And in the past year and a half since we’ve been in business, it’s been an eye-opener for me, and a shock for my colleagues. I’ve never had the experience of handling an autistic child till now, and my colleagues are appalled at the situation in which parents of kids with special needs sometimes have to resort to desperate measures to get their kids involved in any form of activity.
Some parents don’t tell us their kids require special attention, and we get a good workout – good thing I aced my shuttle run – trying to prevent injury to the child in question, and the other kids in the class.
And some schools I work at don’t tell us they have kids in the classes who require special attention. We learn of their needs when they shoot out of the line and climb the bars at the end of the hall. We’ve grown eyes at the back of our heads as a result. One class, 40 kids, 1 autistic, 1 attention deficit disorder = headache for 1 contract gymnastics instructor and one form teacher who sheepishly says, ‘oh yah, those two boys, special needs lah’. This is after we have a contract with the school that specifically asks them to inform us of any medical condition in any child.
The people that make the decisions and who have the money to implement them are slowly starting to realise we need special facilities / programs for special needs. The current situation is dangerous when you have special needs kids whose parents want them to participate as normally as possible, and rightly so. And some of them are desperate enough to sneak them into mainstream programs thinking they can get away with it if the child isn’t disruptive.
It is heartbreaking to have to turn these kids away from our programs, but we had to, because we were not adequately equipped and staffed to handle them.
And it is just as heartbreaking to see special needs kids being ‘mainstreamed’ into normal schools because their parents can’t afford to put them in the long waiting list for special schools. While these kids are not conspicuously discriminated against by any overt bullying or victimising, they aren’t gaining anything from being mainstreamed.
At another school where we teach, and where special needs kids are also mainstreamed, there was one day when one boy was being particularly boisterous. And with 40 boys in a class, you have to raise your voice to keep order sometimes. Our instructor did just that, only for that boy’s classmate to come up to him and whisper, ‘sir, sir, don’t shout at him, he’s a bit sick, you know?’.
These children need special attention. Mainstreaming them is questionable. Mainstreaming them with 40 kids per class is ludicrous.
Our company is still exploring ways to get public funds to organise gymnastics and gross motor skills classes for special needs kids. However, there’s still this grossly repugnant attitude that ‘special needs’ = ‘charity case’, and I am often asked why my company doesn’t give these classes for free. My company can’t. We want to be able to. Give us the money and we will.