Are Asian communities welcoming of special needs children and their families?
If someone had asked me this question 5 years ago, I would have said a resounding “no”.
It is disheartening, and yet that was my experience. I recall, it was at a Janmashtami festival midnight celebration at the Radha Krishna temple in Balham.
There were about 250 people packed into the hall and as the temple doors opened, everyone was rushing towards the front to swing the Lord Krishna Jhula.
I was there with my daughter, who at the time was 5 years old.
She had recently been diagnosed with Autism and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
My daughter was equally excited, and wanted to get to the front. There were a couple of elderly ladies standing by the side, managing the queue. One of them noticed that my daughter was trying frantically to rush towards the front.
She shouted at me in a loud voice, and said:“Oh Behen, hold on to your child, she can’t get ahead like that”.
I replied: “Of course. She’s just a little overexcited and because of her conditions she doesn’t understand things too well”.
To which the lady replied: “She should be kept at home, and not come to temple on a busy day like this”.
I was aghast.
“I am sorry, who are you to decide when she can come to the temple. Do you know the meaning of these disorders?”, I demanded.
She wouldn’t listen to me, and kept insisting that I must control her or leave the queue and come back during a quieter time. I felt humiliated, as I could see other people were now watching the exchange. All the while I was also trying to manage my daughter. Luckily my mother had accompanied us to the temple.
She interjected at this point and told me that we should go back home and return in the morning. When it would be “quieter”.
Did I leave the temple? No.
Instead, I told everyone who was standing in the front if they can kindly let my daughter and my family to offer prayers first, because my daughter has difficulties settling down.
Much to my delight, we were able to go to the front without any further delay.
My daughter ran towards the front, looked back at me and gave me a bright smile. She was happy to be a part of this amazing celebration.
I am sure all the drama could have been avoided, if the person in charge of managing a queue is better educated about mental disorders (in my experience mainly Autism and ADHD), as generally these children look the same as any normal children.
Why am I writing about something that happened over 5 years ago?
Well, this is the first in what is hopefully a continuing series looking at the challenges faced by parents with special needs children. We hail from a country and a society where there’s little understanding of mental health conditions. The result of that is the marginalization of those with mental health issues as well as their families.
But education is the key and this space is all about that.