May 2002
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Understanding Special-Needs
By Kim Fehr, Grade 11, Garden Valley Collegiate, Winkler, MB

Special-needs children are more accepted in today's world than ever before. According to Reverend Abe Fehr, of Winkler, Manitoba, special-needs people used to be more of a sole responsibility to the family, a reason for the family to stay home more, thus keeping to yourself more. Now, he says, these special-needs people are being integrated into society. They go to public schools, are able to get jobs at local businesses, and as a whole, are more accepted and better understood. To many people, it is no longer an embarrassment to be seen in public with the challenged.

Having grown up with both an older brother and a younger sister who were mentally challenged, Rev. Fehr knows what it is like. "There is more parent involvement and more teaching required for these children," he says, "but with less results." Fehr cannot recall ever resenting that his brother and sister did not do everything that he was required to do. They just could not do all the things a typical child could do, such as milking cows. Wanting to help and to be involved, they more often got in the way.

The building that is now the daycare in Winkler used to be a school for the mentally challenged. It was called A.R.C., or the Association for Retarded Children. Most people did not understand the mentally challenged and, as a result, many were not comfortable being around them. Now, they are put into the public schools, where they learn to interact with other people, and vice versa.

It is different now for the mentally challenged. They are better placed in society than they were back in the 1960's and 1970's. There is more tolerance for difference today, more acceptance of those who are not as capable. Fehr recalls how easy it was for other children to push his brother and sister away. Instead of working with them, the kids would automatically exclude them, something that comes naturally for kids. For that reason, it was easier for the family to stay home more, where everything was a lot more secure. It was simpler than going out and having to deal with left-out children.

Growing up in the family situation that he did, Fehr learned many things. "It was a stigma that had to be dealt with," he says. Having two handicapped members in the family was definitely nothing to be proud of back then. In the long run, it taught him how to understand them, how they think, and what they need. "It was harder for handicapped people to fit in. Often they were the only ones in that category. When I look back now, I could have been a far bigger help to my brother, but peer pressure being what it is, I didn't. This subsequently was work then that my parents had to deal with."

Special needs people did not chose their situation in society, Rev. Fehr suggests, and they cannot do anything to change it. He believes that in many ways, they are just like everyone else. They too, long to be loved and accepted, and they just want to have some friends. They are humans just like us, and they need to be included in our worlds and in our lives. They too, have something to add to society. They are, says Fehr, "people created in the image of God, and they too, have a purpose for life. We need to give them a chance."

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