Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Being Special

Picture of happy children of Malaysia playing together

Not many of us are born fortunate in this world. Some people have to accept the fate of having an abnormal child that is less than perfect compared to us. We are not going to shun them out from the community. We are not going to leave them in the dark. Instead, we are going to teach them about life like the rest of us and we are going to make them see a brighter future in the society we live in. Let us be what we always preach to be, a caring society.

On one fated afternoon, someone asked if I wanted to help working as volunteer for special kid school in Klang and I said yes, as simple as that. Off I go on the very same night to the meeting of volunteers of the Special School in Klang, a school that serves the mentally handicapped children.

In Malaysia, mentally handicapped children are also called Special Kids. People who are mentally handicapped have below average intellectual abilities and deficits in adaptive behavior. They tend to have impaired abilities to cope with routines and daily living skills. This disorder interferes with learning, communication, independence, motor ability, and social skills. Approximately one to three percent of the population is mentally handicapped (information derived from www.library-thinkquest.org).

In short, these children have an IQ range of below 70.

The most known mentally handicapped cases of Special Kids are Down syndrome and Autism but there are many other cases that are also classified as mentally handicapped. The causes could be heredity and non-heredity. Examples are (1) genetics such as chromosomal abnormalities, (2) infectious diseases that might cause brain damage, (3) prenatal and postnatal trauma and (4) toxin exposure such as lead and mercury and the mother’s use of alcohol and drugs that can cause brain damage.

Now let’s talk about these two main categories of Special Kids, i.e. Down Syndrome (DS) and Autism.

Down syndrome (DS)

This is the history of how DS get its name. I took it word by word from
http://www.ds-health.com/ a website of a parent who dedicated his time to help other parents with a DS child. Here goes…

The formal story began in 1866, when a physician named John Langdon Down published an essay in England in which he described a set of children with common features who were distinct from other children with mental retardation. Down was superintendent of an asylum for children with mental retardation in Surrey, England when he made the first distinction between children who were cretins (later to be found to have hypothyroidism) and what he referred to as "Mongoloids."

Down based this unfortunate name on his notion that these children looked like people from Mongolia, who were thought then to have an arrested development. This ethnic insult came under fire in the early 1960s from Asian genetic researchers, and the term was dropped from scientific use. Instead, the condition became called "Down's syndrome." In the 1970s, an American revision of scientific terms changed it simply to "Down syndrome," while it still is called "Down's" in the UK and some places in Europe.

The cause of DS was first determined in the year 1959 by Jerome Lejeune and Patricia Jacobs. It is because of trisomy (triplication) of the 21st chromosome which is due to translocation and mosaicism. See the photos below that explain the difference between normal chromosome and trisomy 21st chromosome.

This is a normal chromosome of a female person. It has a set of 22 chromosomes and one of XX. Human cells normally have 46 chromosomes which can be arranged in 23 pairs. 22 are alike in males and females; these are called the "autosomes." The 23rd pair are the sex chromosomes ('X' and 'Y').

This is a photo of a male with trisomy 21 or DS.

Facinating, isn’t it. At least now we understand it from the medical point of view. Some people linked it with superstitious belief and other nonsense. It’s time for us to educate ourselves and the community of these special cases of human defects. With understanding, we react better towards the situation. And for the parents of Special Kid, society’s awareness is a great relief. Our compassion is their joy.


“Autism is a developmental disorder that is characterized by impaired development in communication, social interaction, and behavior. Autism is classified as a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), which is part of a broad spectrum of developmental disorders affecting young children and adults--the Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The range of these disorders varies from severely impaired individuals with autism to other individuals who have abnormalities of social interaction but normal intelligence--Asperger's syndrome. The ways in which autism is exhibited can differ greatly. Additionally, autism can be found in association with other disorders such as mental retardation and certain medical conditions. The degree of autism can range from mild to severe. Mildly affected individuals may appear very close to normal. Severely afflicted individuals may be extremely retarded and unable to function in almost any setting.” Taken word by word from medicinet.com.

You can read more about autism from this website, a full paper on autism. Quite useful for those who are interested to learn more at childrensdisabilities.info.html

Now for a much fun way of learning and understanding autism child and their world is by reading this book entitled "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon. It's about a 15-year old autistic British boy story of love, struggle and bravery in solving the murder of his neighbour's poodle dog. Very touching and original. You'll moved to tears, I guarantee that.

Or you could watch this movie, I am Sam who tells a story about a single DS and autistic father played by Sean Penn and little girl, Dakota.

Back to the Klang Special Kid School, I’ve learned a lot ever since that. I've seen many different cases of Special Kids. Some of the children have the combination of DS and Autism at the some time. Some of the kids can easily be seen as having a DS, some looks so normal like us but with certain hyperactive behaviour, i.e. very quiet, in their own world or doing their own stuff and some are so clever, they could read and write but they are categorized as slow learner. They are put into different classes in order to give better attention according to their needs and capabilities.

This is long enough for one posting. In the next one, I shall be writing about other areas of this subject including about the school and the volunteers.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Do you know the story of the Thorn Bird? Let me enlighten you with it. Here goes…

“There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to out-carol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain… Or so says the legend.” – The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough

Sad isn’t it? But a good lesson to learn. This book is about what great pain sometimes we had to go through in our quest for love. What great price we had to pay to live in this world. What sacrifices we made in the name of religion and ambition. Love does not mean marriage and more cruelly is marriage does not mean love.

Another story… Do you always cherish the person that you love? Never follow the foot of Scarlet O’Hara who didn't see love, when it’s always infront of her until it’s too late. UNTIL IT’S GONE WITH THE WIND. Let me further enlighten you on that… 

“I’ll think about it tomorrow”- Scarlett O'Hara the main character of this story has this favourite phrase always in her mind whenever she faced with difficulty in life. She waited until it's too late. Well, the moral of the story is never hesitate or afraid to take the ride, you might not know when the next train will arrive.

And finally… Never let ambitions and status overwrites your true feelings for someone. Sometimes, it might ruin the person’s life and yours forever. That’s the Wuthering Height another extraordinary love story one should never missed to read. 

“I wish I could hold you.” She continued, bitterly, “till we were both dead! – Chapter XV, Wuthering Heights.

The love story portrayed by two complicated characters. Careful when you read this book, as your heart will be filled with thousands of disturbing feelings that stays with you for the longest time. Huhuhu.... An original rare masterpiece of Emily Bronte. Here goes…

Heaven looms the dull sky,
Heavy rolls the sea –
And heavy beats the young heart
Beneath that lonely tree.

Never has a blue streak
Cleft the clouds since morn-
Never has his grim fate
Smiled since he was born.

Frowning on the infant,
Shadowing childhood’s joy,
Guardian angels knows not
That melancholy boy.

(Emily Bronte’s poem that describes the character of Heathcliff and Hareton during their childhood)

I, the image of light and gladness
Saw and pitied that mournful boy,
And I swore to take his gloomy sadness,
And give to him my beamy joy.
Guardian angel, he lacks no longer;
Evil fortune he need not fear:
Fate is strong, but Love is stronger;
And more unsleeping than angel’s care.

(Poems of Emily Jane Bronte that describe the two characters of Catherine, the mother and the daughter who both fell in love with a forlorn boy)

Great Love Stories from three great authors; The Thorn Birds, Gone with the Wind and The Wuthering Heights. Check them out!

"Love is the key that unlocks the bars of impossibility" 
- Fikayo Ositelu -

Friday, February 02, 2007


Hmm…. It’s a full moon… it's a night full of wonders... but beware... warewolves, vampires, witches and creatures of the unknown... hahaha!!!

Wow... was that scary or not. Human too is known to act differently when it comes to full moon. However, don't believe me, science still can't proof that for a fact. Nevermind, it’s just perfect. Let’s go out and play, shall we.

1st February is the Federal Territory Day, Kuala Lumpur’s most waited public holiday. Yea…!!! Wait a minute… It’s Thaipusam also lah. Selangor also on holiday. Yippy yea!!! We got to celebrate together this time. Let’s go. Hmm… where to go, ha? BATU CAVES LAH, WHERE ELSE.

So off I go to Batu Caves to observe the celebration of Thaipusam accompanying my friend and his mother. It’s a beautiful full moon that makes you feel active. In Tamil calendar, it is the 10th month of Thai. On the full moon of Thai, the constellation of Pusam, the star of well-being rises over the eastern horizon, hence the name THAIPUSAM. Now you know, right.
Now a little back ground of Thaipusam for the ignorant like me; Thaipusam is celebrated to commemorate the day when the wife of Lord Shiva, or the mother god, goddess Parvathi, gave her son, Lord Murugan a vel (lance) in order to defeat the three demons that cause havoc to the world. So it is like a celebration of Lord Murugan defeating evil. He is also called Velan, hence the vel which is shaped as the lance is the representation of Lord Murugan. People will chant the word ‘vel’ many times to help encourage continuous state of trance to the kavadi carrier. There’s a lot more thing going on to the story that I don’t think I am qualified to write here. Leave it to the Hindus. Let you all do your own research, ok.

The best word to describe my experience is that I was FACINATED… The whole atmosphere is filled with festivities and activities. There’s thousands of Indian on that night going to Batu Caves (even more so on the eve and morning earlier) to pay their vows. Some carrying kavadis, some having their body pierced with metals, some just carrying milk and some having their hair shaved. I missed the procession of the charriot and the coconut breaking, surely they did that on the eve, I guess. There were many kavadi carriers under a trance dancing with the melody of the drums as they proceeded climbing the staircases one by one with ease.

My friend KUMA explained to me about the kavadi. A person needs to fast for about 40 days, being vegetarian, sleeping on the floor and abstaining from all physical comfort and other worldly pleasures in order to achieve purification. Through rigorous discipline of cleansing one’s body and soul only will they be able to get the trance to carry the kavadi. It’s a way of penitence or show of thankfulness of the good fortune, health and living to the vows they have made earlier.

It was my first time visiting the famous Batu Caves although I passed it almost everyday via the highway. I wanted to pay visit and climb the 272 staircases for a very looooong…. time but have not gotten the chance to do so until recently. This year, I got it all planned perfectly to make sure I had the best view of the whole procession and I did.

Well… I went to Batu Caves twice to see the difference between night and day. Hmm… lots of tourist and the remnants of the day earlier as a tertimony of how many people has visited the place.

272 steps of Batu Caves (photo taken by KUMA) - a good exercise for everyone.

Hanuman, the Monkey Lord. This statue shows Hanuman opening his heart that contains the proof of how much he loves Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi. If you look closely at his heart, you will see that inside, there's small statues of Lord Shiva and his wife Goddess Parvathi. An amazing craftmanship. I didn't know until my friend pointed it out to me.

Now I had better understanding of Hinduism which helps me to see it in a whole new perspective. More Malaysian of different creed should do this as well. I don’t see any harm in understanding other's religion. We all must study each other for better integration and understanding of one another. Respect others and others will respect you.


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