Special People Have Human Needs
In the space of one week last month I was destined to attend both a funeral and a wedding.
On both occasions I was blessed to meet two very beautiful souls: two adorable little boys barely ten years old.
My first instinct, as always with me when I see little ones, was to run and envelop them in a hug- they were that sweet mashaAllah.
But I stayed where I was and admired that sweetness from afar. We are, after all, living in a C-19 world.
I did not, however, miss the looks thrown in their directions or the words(loudly) whispered behind heenaed hands. I also did not miss the impatience with which they were treated and how simple requests from them were dismissed.
It broke my heart.
These two boys were special.
The one at the funeral, I found out later, was autistic while the second at the wedding had obvious physical challenges.
The absolute innocence and purity of these two young future leaders shone through it was impossible to miss.
Yet at both gatherings everyone seemed to want them out of the way. It was as if people were ashamed of them and wanted to hide them away somewhere.
I wanted to do the same.
I wanted to do the same but to spare them the looks of pity, dismissal and rejection.
Across from my balcony at home at another neighbour’s there is an even younger boy living with Down’s Syndrome.
This boy seems to spend a signification portion of his young life at the balcony that overlooks mine. I have never, not once since they moved accross from me, have I seen him away from it for more than a half an hour at a time during the day. He sits, perched on the short balcony wall with his arms and legs cleverly slid through the iron railings. He peers at me with interest whenever he sees me and gives me the most heart melting smile.
Princess, on an errand once, was frustrated that she could not communicate with a hearing impaired stall owner at Markiti. She felt exasperated that two human beings could not put their meaning accross to each other and felt heartbroken at how the man must feel on a daily basis.
She wondered why in our school systems, instead of teaching irrevelant, abstract concepts we are are never going to use in real life, pupils are not taught sign language, people skills, how to listen effectively, or even how to read Braille.
Sitting amidst the weeping at the funeral and the clapping at the wedding, I was left bemused:
‘are people with special needs forever to live on the fringes of society?’
Recently JD suffered a health setback that left him unable to walk. Navigating the stairs to get him to hospital proved impossible and it took half a day to get a doctor to him (when did house visits become a thing of the past?)
Most, if not all, of our residential buildings are neither wheelchair friendly nor do they take into account the infirm or the physically challenged.
It left this Mombasa Mommy’s family to ponder if one of us had trouble, for the long term, with mobility or vision or hearing how we would live day to day. Because we wouldn’t just want to survive- we would want to thrive.
The issue is never ours until it is.
Back to my neighbour’s son. The boy spends his day singing and greeting the garbage man and anyone else who passes by our neighborhood. The only time you see him laugh with excitement and glee is when his siblings return from wherever they have been to sit with him. I have no idea whether his parents have any intention of enrolling him in a playgroup or a curated class. For now, he sits and watches the world go by.
I sat dissecting my feelings about this young man. I urge you to do the same the next time you meet a person with special needs (whether he was born with them or was blessed with them after that)
Except that they aren’t special needs.
They are human needs.
Check within yourself : do you feel pity? Why do you feel pity? Because he has been dealt an unfair hand? How do you treat him?
Special needs people are still special people. They deserve us to treat them as we would treat any other person. With dignity, respect and maturity.
I believe that we do them an injustice when we treat them delicately or skirt around their uniqueness.
They might be different but that does not make them stupid. Or less than.
Both the little boys I met felt they were unwelcome. I know because I saw their faces change and saw their little shoulders droop when they heard the “huyu hayuko sawa” thrown callously in their presence.
Next time you meet someone with special needs, before you look away or make a heartless remark to his or her face put yourself in their place.
Next time you see a person with special needs ask yourself what you have done to make life livable for him.
Today it is someone’s child or your neighbor’s.
Tomorrow it could be your child. Or it could be you.
Let us make this world a better place one smile, one kind gesture, one word at a time.
Photo Courtesy of Billow926 on Unsplash