I read a quote online, credited to an American bassist called Bill Laswell, which I couldn’t help but agree with. He said that “people are afraid of things they don’t understand. They don’t know how to relate…”
Often times because people do not understand special needs, they define it in their own way, then become scared of not just the condition, but of people that have special needs. Especially in a superstitious community like Nigeria, people assume that by coming close to a child with special needs, they will attract the condition to themselves. And unfortunately, they express these fears in their actions towards individuals with special needs and their families. This is one of the causes of stigmatization of individuals with special needs.
Special needs is exactly as it is called, children with special needs have needs that are more than our regular needs. So a child with cerebral palsy may need a motorized wheel chair to help with mobility, apart from therapy; a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Down syndrome or any related disorder may need support in class, apart from therapy, or may need a special diet. The disorders are usually accompanied by different limitations, but they do not make these people less humans. They are as human as neurotypical people.
Why am I saying this? I remember being afraid of a DS boy in my neighbourhood when I was much younger, because I did not understand what was wrong with him. If I knew better, I would have responded better, and most likely been his friend.
It is therefore okay that you do not fully understand what autism is about, but I am here to tell you that children with autism and other special needs, just like you, want to feel loved as well. I expect that knowing that they have feelings like you will help you respond better. Loving them will help you support in any way you can, will help you feel some empathy for them and their families, help you raise your child to be more accepting towards people with special needs, help you create and participate in a more inclusive society.
Many parents of children with special needs can testify that they have been stigmatized in schools, malls, and in religious houses. Knowing that having a child with special needs should help you empathize with them.
All my long speech is to say that people with autism and other special needs have a RIGHT TO LOVE.
They have a right to be loved by their parents, to be loved by siblings and relatives, to be loved by YOU. I have an old article on the blog that talks about ways you can support families that have children with autism, whether you know them personally or not. Please click here to read.
I hope that as you become more autism aware, you will be part of the inclusive society that we are working towards; a society that accommodates the needs of people with special needs. To do this, you must realize that they have rights, and actively be part of ensuring that their rights are respected.
Before I forget, Happy Easter.