Be an enabler of change

2018-04-19 06:00
Stephen Naidoo PHOTO: supplied

Stephen Naidoo PHOTO: supplied

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IN 1980 I attended Dawnview Primary School and we had a class for special-needs pupils.

It was my first encounter with “special pupils”, having come from a farm school, namely Kearsney Sated Aided Primary School where all pupils were treated the same, irrespective of their academic abilities.

These “special pupils” looked the same as me, as any other pupil, so I failed to understand why they had to be in a special class.

Why were we discriminating against these pupils? The simple answer is that someone decided that “dis” must be put in front or their “abilities”. People with disabilities have vast knowledge and skills that are not used because of the “dis” in front of the “able”.

This has led to widespread discrimination of this sector of our society. In terms of the Employment Equity Act, companies are now forced to recognise that people with disabilities are valuable and can be productive employees in any business given the opportunity.

This begs the question, then why are so many people not able to participate in the economy of our country as employees and entrepreneurs even though they are differently abled or have a disability of some sort?

The problem lies at the very root of our education system. Today, every child with a disability is guaranteed the right to an education, but this right is cruelly taken away from them by school governing bodies and incompetent and uncaring education department officials.

As a former school governing body chairperson, this comment is not made lightly. The moment a parent goes to a school and says they are seeking admission for their child and they indicate that the child has a disability, the answer immediately becomes: “Sorry we do not have any place”.

All children, irrespective of the type of disability, are automatically shunned by main stream schools. Let us take the example of an autistic child.

Autism is today known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as there are so many different forms of the disability as it covers a large spectrum of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment.

ASD ranges in severity from a handicap that somewhat limits an otherwise normal life to a devastating disability that may require institutional care.

It is argued that it is very difficult to accommodate autistic children in a mainstream school due to the special needs of the child.

More and more research is beginning to show that including autistic children within an all-inclusive school setup is not only beneficial to the child, but to society as a whole. The discriminatory aspect is removed and it enables greater social interaction between all children.

This then allows our children to grow up in a normal society that does not frown upon people who are different. They become more caring members of society and respect the differences of a diverse community.

Who then decides that a child who has ASD can or cannot attend a normal school? This must be decided upon by the parent and health care provider, keeping in mind what is in the best interest of the child. It must also be noted that research has shown that a large proportion of children afflicted by autism are highly intelligent and have scored very high marks in non-verbal tests and excel in some areas, such as memorising things, music, art and even maths and languages.

More especially, those children with Asperger’s syndrome and those who are hyperactive, should be placed in mainstream schools as it would greatly benefit them. At the same time, it must be borne in mind that not all autistic children benefit from mainstream schooling and can be severely impacted.

Some of them flourish in a more protected environment together with other autistic children.

Be an agent of change, respond to the challenges that come with an all- inclusive education system and then we will have a society that does not shun people who are differently abled, but embrace them as a valuable part of society.

I leave you with a thought: “Though we both may be looking at the same thing, I may have difficulty seeing it, don’t laugh at me, if you had vision, you will know there is potential in me.” – Stephen 2015

- Written for the Weekly by Stephen Naidoo who is also a person who is differently abled, but despite this has excelled in taking on the challenges of life.

Former chairperson of Stanger Manor Primary School SGB

Chairperson of the Provincial Disability Forum at Eskom’s KZN Operating Unit

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