Special People, Special Needs

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When your job involves writing nine hours a day, five days a week, you tend not to do much writing for the sheer pleasure of it. You tend to keep as far away from the laptop as you can, when you can. But then, there are times when you are left with no choice – you have to write, regardless of tired eyes and seriously dulled brain. You have to write because otherwise what you carry within you will haunt you every waking moment.

The past few months have been humbling, on various counts. I have learned that I am way more fallible than I had thought myself to be. I have learned that things happen, despite best intentions. I have learned that all those times I had pointed fingers at others, overtly or otherwise, I had stood the risk of being pointed fingers at…that I’m vulnerable, will always be. I have learned what it is to be lonely even while I am fully occupied, and surrounded by people in a brightly lit office. Oh yes, it has been a long, lean, learning curve.

But nothing compares to what I learned on a Saturday morning, while participating in the Best Buddies Family Day at my son’s school (The Millennium School, Dubai) sitting among the audience listening to ‘a proud mother of two special needs children’ speak. She spoke words that made me sit back and think – about her, and other parents like her…about me/us and our actions and reactions…about our little inconveniences and intolerances and how they affect those around us…about LIFE in general, and how it can be such a @#$%! at times…

Three things, that’s all Hanifa Saleem, mother of Nilofer and Nadeem, spoke about – up on the stage and down by the refreshment counter while we were chatting. Just three little things that I had not given one serious thought to till then, ashamed as I am to admit it.

1.       Stop staring.

“We don’t go out in public mainly because we are worried about being stared at. Our children might make strange noises, or behave in socially awkward ways, in public places. At such times, people usually stop and stare. Please don’t do that.

“It’s tough for us as it is, but even more so when you stare. There are times when we need to get our child on or off their wheelchair. It can be cumbersome, and often our dresses might go askew. When you stare, you’re just adding to our misery. If you want to help, please come forward and offer – sometimes we really need it. If you don’t want to, no issues – go on. But please don’t stop and stare.”

2.       Give way.

“Our children are not patient, nor can they control their urge to use the toilet. So it is really difficult to wait in a queue, whether it is at the airport and supermarket, or in front of a toilet. If you see us waiting with our child, allow us to go ahead – and our blessings will be with you, always.

“Once I was waiting in front of the gents’ toilet in Global Village for my son to come out, and a man offered to go and fetch him. To this day I remember him with gratitude, though he might have forgotten the incident. I still keep him in my prayers.”

3.       Let ‘Handicapped Parking’ be.

“Handicapped Parking is reserved for people with special needs – respect that. As I said, it is difficult for our children to go the distance from the car to wherever we are going to. Whether they are walking or using the wheelchair, it will be a great help if we are able to park our car at the reserved parking as it is close to the entrance.

“In one mall, the manager himself had parked his car in the Handicapped Parking. When we brought the issue to his notice, it backfired badly on us. The next time we went there, the said parking was cordoned off with chains, so nobody could use it, including people with special needs. We were told by the security guard that it has been closed off ever since there was some issue over it!”

I rest my case.

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