Turning Differences Into Strengths


There is a strong call for improved special education provisions in public schools, whether it involves a physical condition like cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy or an intellectual or developmental condition like dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, or Down syndrome.

In order to dispel the myth that exceptional children are challenging to manage or educate, public and international schools, for instance, prioritize individual needs in their special education strategy and pedagogy. Not all children would be able to participate in regular sessions, even though high-functioning students with special education needs can be included in regular classrooms.

The correct diagnosis of these children’s conditions is, therefore, a crucial first step in granting them access to education. To fully comprehend the child’s condition and determine the best course of action, parents must visit a child development expert if they have any reason to believe their child may be experiencing developmental challenges.

Universally uplifting encounter

Children with special needs benefit from inclusive classrooms because they have equal access to the curriculum and resources and can make friends with other students, which helps them grow socially. All children can gain from inclusive education, according to Joyce Liew, head of special education at Nilai International School.


“Other kids learn to embrace and empathize with these different kids — to play, converse, and mingle with them, not to bully or treat them poorly.” Teachers establish an example for other pupils to follow by their actions and interactions with the exceptional child. Liew adds that in order for special children to benefit from inclusion, teachers must constantly push them to go above what is expected or necessary. As she advises, “don’t let their condition limit their potential and be innovative in working with their learning style – go beyond adopting traditional teaching methods to bring out their assets and abilities.”


Various types of minds

Because they are less obvious than physical limitations, intellectual disabilities may be more difficult to comprehend, yet neither should be used to categorize or restrict what a child is capable of. “Find their area of interest or strength, and use it to your advantage to help the child develop confidence. This then enables instructors and students to advance through ideas or courses they are having trouble with, according to Carly Nair, coordinator for special needs and learning support at HELP International School.


Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science and an expert on livestock animal behavior, emphasized in a 2010 TED Talk that the emphasis in special education needs to change from what children cannot do to what they can. Grandin, who has autism, claims that she thinks in pictures rather than words and that this has given her a greater understanding of how animals think and enabled her to create efficient systems and facilities for raising livestock.


She came to the realization that diverse thinking processes contribute to the emergence of distinct learning styles and preferences as a result. Use these kids’ obsessions and hobbies in engaging ways to inspire them to learn. A person with autism frequently has a specialty mind; they may not be very good at one area but excel at another. To work together, the world needs a variety of thoughts, according to Grandin.


Awakening the best

The responsibility for understanding how to best accommodate the child’s learning style lies with the instructor, not the student, says Intan Miranti, a learning and behavior consultant for children on the autism spectrum and mother of a child with autism. “Students with special needs need to be treated with the utmost respect, and it must be understood that they are not flawed; rather, they simply learn differently. This is crucial since a lot of outdated thinking demands that the child conforms to the predetermined teaching methodology or curriculum. Support at school ought to work the opposite way, with the system making accommodations for the child, according to her.


Special education needs team, teaching assistants, appropriate student-to-teacher ratios, and a supportive management team that adapts and grows along with the provision for special education needs are all necessary components of this process, according to Nair. Teachers can only feel enthusiastic if they have the necessary support.


Special education should go beyond the classroom to develop students’ passions and skills, whether they are in the performing arts, culinary arts, athletics, or music. However, certain kids might need particular direction and support to interact with others.

Bob Morshidi, a drama teacher, has worked with kids who have ADHD and disorders on the autistic spectrum, such as Asperger syndrome. He argues that although working with these kids would require special considerations and patience, the benefits are undeniably substantial. “I have observed how a youngster who struggled to sit still or pay attention in class performed admirably in his show while also exhibiting enormous growth in communication and teamwork abilities. It enriches life to interact with these kids. As it pushes everyone to be a better version of themselves, you also learn how to behave around other people, he adds.


The continued cultural stigma that many feel for having a child with special needs has also been brought to Morshidi’s attention as a result of having a sibling who has autism. “Some parents still choose to ignore the fact that their child is different, but hiding it means that these kids don’t get diagnosed and can’t get the help they need,” he says.


It is obvious that more needs to be done for the nation’s special needs youngsters, but where do we start? As per Nair, “Schools, parents, and community members need to work together to raise awareness and understanding of learning differences through campaigns, presentations, sharing of ideas and experiences, and anything else that opens the matter for debate. Nothing should stop us from being change agents and allies to better recognize and promote the remarkable gifts and potentials of special children if we can share in their success.