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Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind Workshop

It was a pleasure and privilege to conduct an interactive workshop with parents of special needs kids and teens at the Gurkha Contingent on October 7th. Even though they were part of a tightly-knit community and were more at ease with Nepali, these parents embraced me in their midst with their friendliness, warmth, and hospitality.

Throughout this intensive 3-hour period, these parents shared their grief about their unrealised expectations of having a "normal" child and their endeavours to get the necessary help for them to help their children improve. They also learnt strategies on how they could achieve greater balance in their lives such as delegating tasks to their spouse and children, as well as practised conscious breathing and acupressure techniques for regulating their emotions. All these elements are critical in ensuring that we set realistic expectations about our special needs children.

What was of great significance for me was the opportunity to share what I have learnt about the psychology underlying the "inappropriate" and challenging behaviours of autistic children, from Dr. Antonio Rinaldi (a psychologist specialising in autistic kids). HIs tutelage was instrumental in helping me to understand the dramatic pubertal transformation of Sebastien, my autistic son, and his outbreaks of aggression and self-injury. This understanding and knowledge which is centred upon the mindfulness of the carer, has enabled me to improve my relationship with him, even in our challenging circumstances with long separations and fleeting reunions.

For me, sharing this knowledge with parents of autistic kids could help them to move away from conventional behavioural-focused approaches that seek to suppress non-conformist behaviour at the expense of understanding their children and building a true relationship with them. Having experienced the devastating outcomes and hearing from other families who have been in similar straits, it is my hope that we can stop this tragedy from recurring due to the widespread adoption of behavioural approaches.

So I want to thank the Gurkha Contingent Special Needs Club, particularly Goma and Amrit, for organising the workshop and the lovely snacks and drinks. The love and care you have shown towards your families with special needs kids are exactly what these families need to help get them through the hard times. I only hope that my sharing will help to contribute to alleviating their difficulties in the future.

Ultimately, I hope that my presentation of this workshop will be the first of many, especially to special needs organisations, in order to transform the perspectives of our approach towards special needs individuals. We need to move beyond our narrow, normative, and performance-oriented perspective of treating people as human doings, rather than human beings, to ensure their overall well-being. It is vital that we change our interaction approaches or risk raising frustrated and unhappy autistic individuals who feel that they have not been understood or treated respectfully by those who are supposed to love them.

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