CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Special needs children are a blessing

HONG KONG (SE): A sharing about personal experiences with children with special needs saw a series of speakers describe them as a great blessing in a family.
During an afternoon held at the Caritas Institute of Higher Education in Tiu Keng Leng on May 7, Tommy Yim Lap-pun emphasised that he had come to believe that a good relationship between parent and child is of far more importance than success in society.
The afternoon was organised by the Pro-Life Ministry of the Diocesan Pastoral Commission for Marriage and the Family, the Caritas Institute of Higher Education, the Bioethics Resources Centre of the Holy Spirit Seminary College of Theology and Philosophy, the Diocesan Committee for Bioethics and other related organisations.
It was billed as an opportunity to promote understanding and acceptance in the community of children with special needs and their families.
Parents and social workers, as well as medical practitioners gave a brief description of various limitations that afflict some children, as well as sharing some understanding of the suffering both the child and their families endure.
The day was one of a series organised by the Diocesan Pastoral Commission for Marriage and the Family on how the apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis, The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia) can be applied to everyday family life.
Robert Yuen Kar-ngai, a pediatrician and a member of the Pro-Life Ministry, said in his opening message that Jesus loves children and the Church is especially concerned about those with special needs.
He praised their courage in overcoming the difficulties that their various physical or mental limitations pose for them.
He then quoted Pope Francis as saying in The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia) that we must reach out to such families with humility and compassion and “help each family to discover the best way to overcome any obstacles it encounters” (#200).
Joanna Chu Yuen Suk-yee, the chairperson of the Hong Kong Association for Cleft Lip and Palate, spoke of her own difficulties in taking care of her daughter, who was born a with serious cleft lip and palate.
She clarified that the common misconception that a cleft lip can be cured with a simple operation linking various parts of the upper or lower lip together is an over simplification.
In fact, a serious cleft lip and palate may involve gaps in the upper roof of the mouth, which begin from the nose and profoundly affect the ability to eat and speak. Addressing the malady is a lengthy process, as it requires several operations at various stages of growth.
Chu said that she originally set up the association for the parents of children with the condition, in order to help them understand the situation and know more about how to care for them.
She shared about her frustration in feeding her baby, as she could not close her mouth. Then there was the further frustration when the first operation was unsuccessful.
However, she stressed that her daughter, who is now in primary school, is a lovely girl. And she strongly believes, as a priest once told her during a visit, that the baby was born to glorify the love of God.
Ku Wai-ying, a social work supervisor from Caritas Rehabilitation Services, was invited to introduce the topic of autism, a neuro-developmental disorder involving impaired social interaction, together with verbal and non-verbal communication limitations, and usually characterised by repetitive behaviour.
About two-thirds of autistic cases also have an intellectual disability, while one third can have either normal or even well above average intelligence.
Yim, the father of a seven-year-old autistic boy, shared about his dilemma over whether he should push his son into a mainstream primary school or not, but he said that he finally gave up this plan.
Upon reflection, he said that he now believes the most important thing for parents is to adjust their expectations of their children in line with their ability, as in the long run a good relationship is the most important thing.
Yim said although bringing up his son has been a tough journey, there are lots of rewards. He was surprised to hear him playing a song a few months after he started learning the piano and smiled as he shared that he is always happy to play a game of snooker with him.
Yim’s wife, Angie Chan Ngar-chi, said instead of looking for academic results, she paid a lot of attention to the behavioural problems of her son, as it is important that he not harm others and become a burden on society.
Ko Chun-hung, a consultant pediatrician at Caritas Hospital, shared about rare hereditary diseases he has dealt with during his career and the suffering they bring to the children.
He emphasised the importance of early intervention in any disease, as the earlier the treatment the better.
Sister Laura Watt, a retired nurse now at St. Paul Hospital, said she believes that the biggest comfort for parents who have children with special needs is to see their sacrifices bear fruit.
She described the role of the Church as being to help the family to see hope in the difficulties and be with them in addressing these.
For families that have children with special needs or other trials to endure, she quoted The Joy of Love as saying, “If a family is centred on Christ, he will unify and illumine its entire life. Moments of pain and difficulty will be experienced in union with the Lord’s cross and his closeness will make it possible to surmount them. In the darkest hours of a family’s life, union with Jesus in his abandonment can help avoid a breakup” (#317).
Sister Watt stressed that there will never be such a thing as a family without suffering, but real joy appears when trials are coped with in Christ. She reminded parents to sustain their hope in their struggles and to be calm in times of fear and uncertainty.
Connie Chan Lai-sheung, the project officer from the Diocesan Pastoral Commission for Marriage and the Family, said she can feel the discrimination against children with special needs in Hong Kong society, which she believes is due to a lack of understanding.
Chan stressed that every life can be cherished before God and children with special needs are not really any different from anyone else, if only people can understand them better and lavish more concern and love upon them.

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