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Off The Spectrum: Don’T Quit Being So Sensitive

By YAN SMITH

I was recently on a radio show where the topic of discussion was sensitivity in the special needs community. One of the guests of the show used the clichéd statement “don’t be so sensitive.” She was referencing why we should do away with that term in the special needs community. I couldn’t agree with her more.

In a world where it seems as if most people tiptoe around the issue of disability, it’s hardly surprising that there is a gross insensitivity to the needs of people with developmental delays. Sadly, most of this insensitivity stems from a lack of knowledge and awareness. There is a great need for society to be educated on issues relating to special needs. The greatest challenge that people living with a disability face is that of ignorance. Yes, even in this golden age of information overload. By not knowing, understanding or even trying to understand the situation of these individuals, society actively robs them of their self-worth and dignity.

Some time ago I took a few of my special needs students on a grocery store trip. They were practicing spending money and shopping skills. We were in an aisle looking for a particular item when man with a shopping cart came through the same aisle. He impatiently tried to get past a couple students who took a few moments to process that they should move aside. Before they got a chance to do this, the man angrily blurted out, “Can’t you see that someone is trying to pass? What are you, retarded?” Well, I initially had a few choice words in mind for that man. You can imagine the emotions I felt then and even now recalling this incident, except now I understand that many people simply aren’t aware. Although, this in no way excuses rudeness, like this man displayed, this moment became a teachable moment. I explained to him that the students were a group of special needs individuals learning how to function in society. His face became pale with embarrassment and remorse. After his enlightenment, he purchased the entire class Swiss chocolate! I am certain that his mindset was forever changed.

I tell that story every chance I get to spread awareness; whether through workshops or just in everyday conversations. It is a perfect depiction of how ignorance can hurt, but how awareness can change the way we respond to a situation.

So then, what does it mean to be sensitive? One of the definitions of that word according to the dictionary is “having or displaying a quick and delicate appreciation of others’ feelings.” Not only does being sensitive entail understanding or showing empathy, but it also involves a quick response to a person’s needs. The more educated we become in identifying characteristics of special needs, the more efficiently we would be able to produce an appropriate response.

To those who have some knowledge of what special needs entails, but still lack sensitivity, stop. Take a look at yourself and realise that we are all different in some way. It is never a good feeling being treated poorly because of the way we look, sound, et cetera. A quote by Mother Theresa sums this up beautifully: “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Sensitivity is not an issue related to persons with disabilities only. Empathy is what we all need to practice as human beings.

• For workshop inquiries or training sessions, feel free to contact the Therapy Learning Centre at 552-5909 or 323-2252; or e-mail: tutoringtherapy@gmail.com and visit us on Facebook.

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