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What It Means to be a 1st World Country

The Hallmark of 1st world country can best be captured by the prevalent societal attitudes towards the handicapped (physically and mentally). As the mother of Sebastien, a 21- year-old autistic young man, these are two scenarios we have experienced around the world, which speak volumes about the respective societies:

Scenario 1 (Mar 2017): At Lombok airport, the staff (at Lion Air) hesitated about giving us boarding passes just because Sebastien was making "strange", but very unthreatening giggles. Despite the fact that the lady had our boarding passes in her hand, she refused to hand them, while clearly talking to her colleagues about us in Indonesian. Finally, a staff member who could speak English questioned me about Sebastien's ability to take an airplane: given the number of stamps he had received in his passport, the question was almost ludicrous.

While the staff might have thought that they were just being "safe", their forcing us to wait, based on their ignorance and unwillingness to move beyond their presumptions, could have had the exact opposite effect. Sebastien was a well-travelled person who knew that something was not right. Had this airline staff member refused to let us board the airplane, Sebastien could have really had a meltdown. Thus, their unfounded fears could have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. We have been fortunate to have found kind souls who have embraced Sebastien in the village community of Bali. Together, they still have to do so much to combat discrimination against those with special needs in much of Indonesia.

Scenario 2 (August 2017): At Oslo central train station, Jerome Poudevigne (my boyfriend) was approaching a train master to query about tickets for an express train to the airport. But when the train master noticed that Sebastien was visibly mentally handicapped, he insisted that Sebastien did not pay for his ticket. (Back in Singapore, when we had asked if Sebastien could have a special ticket price for the zoo, we were told that that he had to show his "special school" pass!) At the Oslo airport, there was a special line dedicated to families and the disabled. When I approached the guard and introduced him to Sebastien, he readily let us into the queue (far shorter than the conventional queue).

This is not about giving special treatment to families with special needs children as though we were VIPs. Rather, it is a simple recognition of our trials and tribulations of families that we experience and an institutionalized endeavor to ease our hardships with reasonable privileges and entitlements. And such positive societal attitudes even have pivotal psychological "side-effect". When parents and carers can move around with their children without struggling and feeling judged, they are able to relax and embrace their children without expectations. Their children can in turn feel genuinely loved by their parents with no strings attached. For these families living under constant stress and anxiety, this is priceless.

So next time you see one of us, give us a smile or a helping hand. Or write to the government on our behalf and call for change.

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