The plight of special children
Too often, even in our own day, children with special needs have been set apart and excluded. Too often, state and federal laws add to to their challenges, instead of removing barriers and opening new paths of opportunity. Too often, they are made to feel that there is no place for them in the life of our country.
This attitude is a grave disservice to these beautiful children, to their families and to our country. But what exactly are special needs? An estimated 4% of Pakistans total population can be classified as a special needs child and it is common enough word in Pakistan, yet do we understand its inherent meaning?
Special needs is a child with medical, mental or behavioural needs that will require ongoing assistance and support. It can also be defined by what children can't do - by milestones unmet, foods forbidden, activities avoided, experiences denied. These minuses hit families hard, and may make these 'special needs' seem like a tragic designation. Some parents will always mourn their child's lost potential, and many conditions become more troubling over time.
Other families may find that their child's challenges make triumphs sweeter, and that weaknesses are often accompanied by amazing strengths.
Children with special needs are not an easily defined group. Some have very obvious and well researched disability, such as Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy; others may have specific learning needs because of dyslexia or giftedness for example. What defines them is the fact that the in need of additional help and moral support in some areas of development.
Special needs itself is not a monotone generalisation that can be fixed with a similar blanket like policy like extra time in exams or special schools for these children.
Families of children with special needs have very little in common. A family dealing with development delays will have different concerns than one dealing with a chronic illness or with that family dealing with mental illness or learning problems or behavioural challenges.
The term 'special educational needs' has a legal definition: children with special educational needs all have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn or access education than most children of the same age with these children often needing extra help from that given to other children of the same age.
One of the best ways to help and socialise such children is by integrating them into society through participation in sports and other activities,thus allowing them to adjust and circumnavigate the barriers around them.
This will carry over into their everyday life and subsequent school experiences. Integration also gives disabled children the chance to make friends and socialize with children of their age group and through this interaction they will learn to value communication, conversation and will learn how to function independently and become an integral part of their peer group and of society.
Non disabled children will also benefit from an integrated program and will learn themselves from interacting with a child with special needs.
They learn to accept differences at an age when differences are noticed but prejudices have not yet developed.
Interacting with other children who have a variety of needs teaches children how to focus on individuals and not on the disability, providing a lifetime long value of regarding these special children as valuable members of society.