A Guiding Light for Children with Special Needs

 

"When I first walked into the classroom, what I saw was totally different from what I had imagined. There was laughter, bright smiles, and twinkling eyes. It was filled with optimism and hope. Although I was their teacher, they also taught and healed me." This was Ying's first impression as she entered her first special education class.

 

Ying began her teaching career in 2015. Her first position was as a form teacher teaching the Chinese language. Later on, because she had to care for her two school-going children and wanted a change of scenery, she joined the Guangxi Yuncai Social Service Center in August 2022.

 

Ying teaching a class.

 

"Right after I joined the organization, I had the chance to join two training events organized by World Vision. One was on child protection, and the other was on sex education for youth. I learned about the things I need to be aware of when helping or interacting with children with disabilities. I also know how to answer their questions about puberty." World Vision has been working with the Guangxi Yuncai Social Service Center, offering children with disabilities remote rehabilitation and education advice, how to use and adapt to their assistive devices, home rehabilitation guidance, living cost subsidy, support to children integrate into society and setting up parental networks.

 

Ying offers remote and physical special education classes. "I teach a class remotely, and another is done face-to-face. Some of the curricula we provide have similarities to those in regular schools. I mainly teach Chinese, mathematics, and arts online. We do Chinese, humanities, and moral education for the face-to-face lessons. I usually include music, astronomy, geography, exploration, and other topics into the lessons to make it interesting and enriching for the children."

 

Ying greeting her students online at the beginning of a class. 

 

Apart from class preparation, teaching, and marking the children's homework after class, Ying also cares for every child's physical well-being. She keeps a record of every student's disability. "I am a teacher, and I am also a special education teacher. I must know the condition of every student and tailor my teaching according to their condition. We have children of various degrees of competency, so I would speak slowly and repeat myself to ensure everyone can follow."

 

Ying values every interaction with her students. She encourages more able students to be her helper, leading others in read. She would often praise those who are slower to follow when they read aloud to encourage them, or wave and high-five students who have challenges expressing themselves. "Some of the children in my class are slower. Some cannot write or speak, so they can only listen to us. It will not be good if I don't interact with them and they feel they are not part of our class. Even a simple hand gesture directed at them will help them feel included and cared for.

 

There are times when Ying feels lost. After repeating something multiple times, her students would still forget what she taught them, or when the children with mobility restrictions cannot complete their homework, Ying would feel helpless and that she has not achieved what she set out to accomplish.

 

But Ying would quickly pick herself up whenever she got down. "When teaching at a regular school, I kept telling my students they must excel in everything. But I can see how difficult and challenging it is for children with disabilities. Sometimes I feel that it is more important that I, as their teacher, give more attention, get to know them, understand them, encourage them, and praise them. This is more precious than anything else. Seeing them transform or the little progresses they make, and bringing them joy is so rewarding."

 

Ying often invites one of the students to lead the others to read.

 

There is a student named Zhuo who attends Ying's online classes. Zhuo is 19 years old and has cerebral palsy. He is always very excited to complete his homework, and if the task is to write an essay, his essay turns out to be very long. Ying later learned from Zhuo's mother that he uses his nose to type on the computer because his hands cannot move. Ying was touched when she heard this.

 

There is another student called Xiaoyu whose ability is slightly more advanced compared to his other peers. He is also very disciplined. He can grasp what is taught in class and can complete his assignments. He also often responds to questions asked by parents and other students in the class group chat and is a very capable child. "I usually assign homework verbally. After class, Xiaoyu would type out the assignment and share it with all his peers in the class group chat." Ying said.

 

Whether remote learning or face-to-face classes, children with disabilities can still improve their knowledge, social and communication skills. Ying said, "Education will enable them to gain a healthy perspective of life, learn different values and about the world, and help them develop psychologically. If they cannot access education, they will have to stay at home every day, and their cognitive skills will deteriorate, making it even more difficult for them to integrate with society."

 

The remote learning, a field getting improvement in recent years, has provided an opportunity for children with disabilities access to education, especially for those who have difficulties in transportation and mobility. Moreover, with relatively low coverage and cost, it can serve more children with disabilities and their families in learning and training support in an early stage or during the long rehabilitation process.

 

Ying teaches her students using a smartphone app. During the lockdown period, many used this app to work from home. Hence, the software's operators limited access to prevent it from crashing. Ying needed help finding a suitable online platform to run her classes. One of her students, Gui, would therefore wake up in the middle of the night every day to open an online meeting room and set Ying as the host so that she would have a space to teach her students in the morning.

 

Peng together with his classmates attending Ying’s class online.

 

Ying's students constantly move her and motivate her to keep going. "Believe in the light, chase the light, become the light, strive to be better, and guide our children to be better too." This is something that Ying has always wanted to share with others.

 

Disability is not something that far from us. There will always be "obstacles" and "inconveniences" in our lives. Ying wants to tell everyone: "All people are born equal but unique, and everyone is different. I hope we can respect, accept, help, and love each other."