Communion in Love - Journey of Friendship with Mentally-disabled and Autistic Children
Wong Ching Yin, Juliana
MCS (MT) 2017
In the past decade, the Education Bureau of Hong Kong has introduced integrated education to local primary and secondary schools. The scheme includes allocating funds to the mainstream primary schools to employ speech therapists for students with special education needs. In the past nine years, I, a speech therapist, went to primary schools every day and conducted therapies with those students with speech impediments. Among them, many are mentally-disabled and autistic children. I felt deeply moved by their lives.
Integration – exclusion still exists even under the same roof
The mentally-disabled and autistic children are so different from other children in their learning ability and behavior that they experience great challenges in school. If students are evaluated by their performance in terms of “intelligence”, “obedience” or “good grades”, this stated group is bound to fail. The integration scheme of the Education Bureau is simply putting all the children in the same space for learning together, with the ideology of striving for academic performance as the basis of learning remain unchanged. The mentally-disabled and autistic children would be considered as second-class because of their poor performance. Many times, when I talked to parents and children, I felt their frustration due to the unsatisfactory academic results. Sometimes they even cried before me, which I felt very sad. This drove me to try my best to help them by improving their language skills, so that they can better adjust to the mainstream learning model and to be accepted by others. Yet, the limitation of their learning abilities indeed made me inevitably feel helpless.
The feeling of helplessness piled up to a point that I was burnt out on the sixth year of my service. I realized that I could not help those in need. In spite of my best effort to improve the students’ communication skills, I was unable to untie the knot stemming from their stress in learning. I could only help them to continuously improve in their abilities and better adapt to the environment. Isn’t it still a game of pursuing excellence while they are unavoidably bound to be lagging behind?
That same year, I studied the course “What does it mean to be a ‘human being’? – Learning from the Disabled” at CGST taught by Dr Sarah Shea. During those days, I reflected on the meaning of disabilities through returning to the Christian traditions. God eventually lifted me up from my sorrow. I realized that I have been surviving well under the education system of Hong Kong, often relying on myself to make progress and demand myself to stay strong and capable. I could not accept that I am unable to help others, and fight my own limitations, weaknesses, and brokenness.
Communion – connected in the love of Christ
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out that human life is fragmentary. Christ did not redeem human beings in the image of a perfect superman, but as a vicarious representative of all mankind, by entering into the vulnerability, dependence, and even guilt of human beings. Human is accepted through Christ, the son of Man, to be loved in Christ, and to reconcile with God. Christ became a human being, so that the fragments of life are restored and perfected. Thus, I recognized that I cannot save the children in the image of a superwoman.
In fact, I am not better than those “weak” children from the eyes of the God. My life was fragmentary, but made perfect by Christ, who entered the vulnerability of human beings. At this point, my relationship with the children is no longer a “helper” and a “recipient”, but we before Christ, are the same, both vulnerable and are loved. It opened my eyes to see this relationship. I view myself not only as a person to give help, but together, we can become friends and share with one another the abundant life from the heavenly Father. With the love of Christ, I gradually accept my own vulnerability and the weaknesses of the children. My strength was restored eventually.
I did not expect that after a few years, the pastor who is responsible for children ministry of my church has a vision of inclusive children worship. We anticipate that within the church community, children can break away from the norm of the education system which distinguishes them by their ability. All the children can experience that they are loved by Christ and learn to love one another. Our heavenly father have called many brothers and sisters in my church to take part in this ministry. They are exploring ways how to practice inclusion in the love of Christ and teaching children to love other children that are different from themselves. This is truly a difficult journey. At the beginning, those children who seem more capable used to compete with each other. They are impatient in waiting and resistant getting close to those who are different from them. Yet, after a few days of getting along closely, we gradually see little by little changes of some children.
We continue to pray that the love of Christ connects children of different learning abilities, break away from the ideology of the world that distinguishes people by their ability, and establishes a true inclusive and love community in Christ's love.