Many people generally feel uncomfortable around children or people with disabilities and special needs. This could stem from the lack of personal contact and fear.

When it comes to interacting with people with special needs, how do we move from an attitude of tolerance to acceptance?

Tolerance To Acceptance

According to a survey commissioned by Lien Foundation in 2016:

  • Only 8% feel that Singaporeans are willing to go to the extra mile to make a child with special needs feel welcome
  • 50% of parents are comfortable with having a child with special needs sit next to their own child in class
  • 6 in 10 people with disabilities do not feel that they are socially included
  • Just 1/3 of the general public polled are fine with being close friends with a person with disabilities
  • Only 1 in 10 Singaporeans is confident of interacting with special needs children
  • 64% believe Singaporeans are willing to share public spaces but not to interact with persons with special needs
  • 10% are confident of interacting with children with special needs

Although the government has made initiatives to develop Singapore into a more inclusive society and provide better support for people with special needs, individually, we can play our part as well.

Be Courageous & Empathetic vs Fearful & Sympathetic

The greatest obstacle for families of children with disabilities and special needs is not the condition itself – it is fear. Given the segregation between most Singaporeans and the disabled or with special needs, fear causes us to focus more on the label of their disability rather than seeing the child for who they are. This results in pity or being over-protective, which leads children with disabilities or special needs to be underestimated, mistreated and not valued in our mainstream schools and communities.

What can I do? Take a step out of stereotypes and disparaging attitudes with courage and empathy. When you are able to do so, you can impart these values to your children and let them go to school and grow up understanding and accepting that disability and special needs are a natural part of our human condition. There is no good reason for us to be scared and feel sorry.

Be Interested & Ask vs Ignore & Judge

It is inevitable to group children with special needs based on a diagnosis or their disability. However, when we get too caught up in all the labels and the type of conditions, our view and identity of these children may be reduced to solely that – their symptoms and behaviours of their conditions. This may lead to ignorance and judgements, based on this set of limitations these children have. Truth is – they each have their own hopes and dreams, so do their family members and caregivers.

What can I do? Take time to befriend a family who has a child with a disability and special needs. Ask open-ended starter questions such as, “What are the challenges that both of you face? What do you enjoy doing together?” Conversations about their children and recognizing the challenges family members’ experience can be a healing process. This also makes them feel safe to share without feeling judged.

Special needs child

Be Willing To Interact & Support vs Avoid & Isolate

Wouldn’t it be beautiful for us if we had the opportunity to learn to interact with a family who has children with disabilities or special needs and lend our support? Expressing your willingness to learn about children with disability and special needs and their families has its benefits.

According to the British Psychological Society, a study suggests that children’s attitudes toward disabled people improve with contact. More exposure to people with disabilities could also help to reduce discrimination and prevent low self-esteem and depression.

Closer to home, a local study has found that implementing a structured intervention programme at the preschool level could foster better attitudes on special needs in children, especially in an inclusive setting.

What can I do? Volunteer at a centre and bring your child along. This gives your children the opportunity to interact and observe children or people who are different from them. In the course of their lives, when they meet with someone with special needs or a disability, be it at school or work, they will be able to connect with them, as fellow human beings.

People at different ages and stages, with or without disabilities and special needs can have meaningful bonds and interactions with their classmates, friends, colleagues, neighbours and fellow Singaporeans. If everyone develops such positive attitudes on special needs, there will be more openness and opportunities for this group of people to fully participate and be included in society. Negative attitudes will gradually give way to greater understanding, respect, shared interests and new friendships.

Is Singapore becoming a more inclusive society?

TNAP takes a look at what initiatives have been rolled out for the past few years.


The year when Singapore signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). It is Singapore’s commitment to treating persons with disabilities equally with the rest of the community, with dignity and respect, and with access to rights.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) announced the Development Support Programme (DSP). This programme is targeted to help preschool children with mild developmental delays learning support and therapy intervention.


Ms Chia Yong Yong, President of SPD, is the first person on a wheelchair to have a seat in parliament, as a Nominated Member of Parliament. A lawyer by profession, Ms Chia has peroneal muscular atrophy.


Kindle Garden, Singapore’s first inclusive preschool opens. It is set up by Lien Foundation, together with the support of Asian Women’s Welfare Association (AWWA). It is said to be the first full-fledged inclusive pre-school here, the school allows children with special needs to learn alongside normal children.

The North East Community Toy Library @ Pasir Ris Elias Community Club, The first integrated Toy Library in Singapore, the Library has an inclusive space where children with special needs can play alongside mainstream school children with toys specially adapted to their needs.

This article is contributed by Sid Hamid, Consultant Occupational Therapist and Founder & Director of Oxytoseen Pte Ltd

This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine.

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