Oh Siew May was born in 1971 with cerebal palsy, a disorder that affects muscular control and body movements. She attended the Spastic Children’s Association School, and with strong determination and perseverance, she was the second student from the school to complete her Primary School Leaving Examinations, qualifying her for Express Stream at St Hilda’s Secondary School.
On April 2005, Siew May proved herself to be a conqueror when she climbed to the summit of Mount Kinabalu. Siew May is the author of her biography, ‘Scaling Walls – My Story’. The book has been published in both Chinese and English. We spoke to her to find out more about her experience as a child with special needs growing up in Singapore.
Can you tell us more about yourself?
My name is Oh Siew May. I am born with cerebral palsy which results in uncontrollable muscle and unclear speech. I grew up in a poor family with three sisters and a brother. I am the youngest in the family. Since young, I led a challenging life, because while I was born with speech impairment, I also had to care for my sister who is mentally disabled.
You aspired to be mainstreamed. Why did you want to be mainstreamed?
I wanted to be the same like the rest of the kids out there. I have a dream to learn more so that I can have a good education and get a job. I want to prove that being disabled is not being “unabled” too. Given a chance, people with disabilities can be somebody too.
How did the people around you react to this thought?
Some teachers were doubtful because I was then not doing well academically. However, some were supportive and encouraging and there were teachers who believed in me. These teachers helped me along the way.
How was the process like for you to achieve this goal?
It was very tough then because I had to study and work twice as much as others, I also needed to attend to my sick and bedridden mother and my sister with mental disabilities.
How was your experience when you were finally mainstreamed?
When I finally got into St Hilda’s Secondary School, life was totally different. I needed to get use to the cruel world. On the first day of school, I was treated like alien from outer space. Students were both curious and amazed as I was the only special kid there. Some mocked at me and imitated the way I talk and walk. I felt so lonely and I did not have any friends for the past few hours of school. Fortunately, I was blessed because I met a teacher who became the kindest friend I ever had there. She helped me through the journey.
What are your thoughts towards *inclusion?
It should be good idea because currently there is too little education and exposure offered to for the young to understand those who are different. Kids are born with curiosity and they will wonder why some kids look different from them, or “weird”. Hence I believe if the kids are exposed more, they will learn to accept differences of others, which will also help them to become a better person in a long run. It is a win-win situation whereby both kids who are disabled and normal kids will benefit. It may not be easy but it is not impossible.
*Inclusion: Students with special needs share the same learning environment with typically developing students and support is given and adaptations are made to facilitate their learning
Some parents are concerned that by placing children with special needs in the same classroom as typically developing children, they may hinder the progression of the class learning? What is your take one this?
I doubt this will happen. In fact, I think it will inspire them to do more. When the special kids can do better than them, they will be motivated to want to do more, Also, in order for the special kids to be placed in the mainstream schools, they should have certain capabilities to study. Hence by doing so, it will not hinder the learning process of the class.
Similarly, some educators believe that by having an inclusive learning environment, it is a win-win situation for both children with special needs, and typically developing children. What do you think are the benefits for both parties?
I believe that the kids will learn to be more caring and accepting towards each other and will become better human beings.
What is one misconception that people often have regarding children with special needs that you would like to share with the general public?
Very often when I walk and talk on the street, people may think I am crazy or I am mentally retarded. They stare hard at me and some even walk away when they see me. They do not bother to hear me out and what they have is a wrong concept and misunderstanding. I can understand their concern, but think about this, if the same happened to you, how would you feel? One should more accepting. It is really unfair to judge others by appearance or by the way they talk. Being disabled is not a choice. If I have a choice, I would not want to be born like this. Being disabled is not “unabled”; we are someone special too.
Do you have any word of encouragement for parents with children with special needs?
Special kids can also be somebody if they are given a chance. People may not understand your child, but as parents, you should be the first to believe in them, trusting them and bringing them up with your love and care. Do not feel ashamed or discouraged, for everyone is born for a purpose, so bring your kid up with an encouraging and supportive heart and passion.
Any final words you would like to say to our readers out there?
Everyone is here for a purpose, special kids are just like you and me. They have minds and hearts. Sometimes they might seem to be in their own world, but they are still human with flesh and blood.
Siew May’s books can be purchased for $10 at the following locations: Pathlight School, Bollywood Veggies Farm Singapore & Artichoke café.
Alternatively, purchases can be made by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A portion of the sale proceeds will be donated to Spastic Children’s Association of Singapore.
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