Special Education in the Chinese Community

Speaking about District 75, which includes schools with programs for students with special needs (Photo by Mu Lan via World Journal)

Many Chinese parents whose children have special needs give the “face issue” more weight than their children’s education, and they often think: “My child is not a maniac. He or she doesn’t need special education.” This [saving face] mindset has kept many children with special needs from special education services, affected their cognitive and behavioral development and led them to a gloomy future, said Mingli Yu Moy, a social worker for 30 years, at a support conference for Chinese families with developmental needs held by the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC) on July 7.

Moy said she has helped a Chinese recent immigrant couple whose son has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When he was in elementary school, the boy attacked people, was hyperactive and slow in language development, and had attention deficit [problems]. Moy tried to persuade the parents to send their child to District 75, which is composed of schools providing special education programs to students with disabilities. But the parents were vehemently against the idea, worrying it would reaffirm the child’s [perceived] abnormalities. Eventually the child’s academic scores slid to the bottom of his class. He lost confidence, his condition exacerbated, he started to be hateful of his classmates and attacked them more often.

Moy said it is quite common for Chinese parents to decline special education for their children because of the “face issue.” But this choice would only keep the cognitive and behavioral development of the children at the preschool level. She said special education programs offer small classes and more teachers. The teachers teach in a customized way based on the evaluation of the student’s needs. In addition, children with developmental needs won’t be discriminated against in special education programs, and it is good for building their self-confidence.

Yuchan Yip, president of the Alliance for Families with Developmental Needs, is a parent of children with special needs. Both her 17-year-old and 19-year-old sons have autism. Yip said her older son was diagnosed when he was 3. Unlike other parents who often choose denial in this situation, Yip actively seeks treatment for her sons, and she placed them in special education programs at a young age. Now her sons not only live independently but also are able to use computers.

Yip said Chinese are often bias against those whose cognitive development is delayed. When she took her sons to buy bread recently, her sons’ hyperactivity caught the attention of other customers. A customer pointed to one of the boys and said: “Look, he is an idiot.” Yip politely said: “He is not an idiot. He is autistic.”

Yip said the first thing parents of special needs children should do is to accept their child’s situation and stop considering the illness of the child as a [form of] shame. Staying away from doctors and special education programs can only make things worse.

If the child is diagnosed with a developmental delay, parents can apply for different assistant programs provided by the state government before or after the child turns 3. A representative from the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) said the agency offers relevant information as well as home care and job training for people with special needs. The services are free for eligible applicants.

Weiyi Chan, director of community services at CPC in Queens, said this conference is the first one held by CPC together with 19 other organizations to support people with disabilities. The 150 seats were quickly taken after a flood of RSVPs and more than 200 people had to be put on the waiting list. Chan said the conference shows the great needs among Chinese for such events, and CPC plans to do it again in larger spaces to meet the demand.

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