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One in three special-needs children faces insensitive treatment: Survey

SINGAPORE — Mr Lawrence Ng, 44, and his 12-year-old autistic son were playing by the pool when another parent came to tell them off for playing too violently.

One in three special-needs children faces insensitive treatment: Survey

Students at Kindle Garden, Singapore’s first inclusive preschool on March 31, 2016. Photo: Wee Teck Hian/TODAY

SINGAPORE — Mr Lawrence Ng, 44, and his 12-year-old autistic son were playing by the pool when another parent came to tell them off for playing too violently. 

Another parent, Ms Sally Kwek, 39, recounted how her nine-year-old daughter, who has a rare neurological condition, was mocked by another child openly in front of her classmates.

In both cases, the experiences of parent and child were reflected in a survey commissioned by the Lien Foundation, which polled 835 parents who have children with special needs.

The findings of the survey released on Monday (July 4) showed that about one in three parents of children with special needs reported hearing insensitive remarks made by adults and other children about their child.

Four in 10 parents felt that their child should be spending more time in the community, but about one-third of this group then said that the feeling of being judged hinders them from spending more time in public places and community spaces. 

As it turns out, families with special-needs children are least likely to frequent places such as libraries and cinemas.

Ms Kwek said that she had to spend time coaxing other children to befriend her daughter: “The greatest difficulty for a child with special-needs and their families is to socialise … (whether they are) playgrounds or cinemas, there must be outlets for (them) to have access to public places just like any other person, without being condemned or harassed”.

The stress of caring for a special-needs child also affects the family. 

Mr Ng said that his son would have meltdowns ranging from destroying things to beating others, and he has had to cut back on social gatherings with friends to tend to him. 

During his son’s initial years, Mr Ng and his wife were also on the brink of divorce because of disagreements over parenting styles. 

In the first part of a study done in May by the Lien Foundation on public attitudes towards those with special needs, it was revealed that about 70 per cent of the 1,086 people polled were satisfied with life. In comparison, the latest study showed that only slightly more than half (55 per cent) of parents with special-needs children are satisfied with life. 

Satisfaction levels in terms of relationship with their child and spouses were also higher among the general public than among parents of children with special needs when comparing both studies.

The latest findings showed that most parents of special-needs children (72 per cent) felt strongly that there is a need for new laws to promote the rights of these children, to provide them with opportunities, protection and access to key amenities. 

They saw existing gaps in services, from transportation to medical, and more than half of those polled also had issues with childcare services. 

Some 45 per cent said that it has been difficult to enrol their child at a pre-school here, with more than half citing reasons such as the school’s unwillingness or the lack of trained teaching professionals.

The Lien Foundation pointed out that Singapore has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which provides for inclusive education, while the Singapore Government’s Enabling Masterplan had also called for compulsory education for special-needs children by 2016, although there has not been any update on this.

Dr Kenneth Poon, who is involved in steering this study, stressed the importance of a conducive environment that allows special-needs children to take part in societal activities. 

The vice-president of Rainbow Centre, a non-profit organisation for special-needs children, added: “Inclusion is about participation. For young school-going children, we think about participation in education and that is a very important part of their lives.”

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