Working with Special Needs in a Developing Country

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am coming to the end of a ten day camp in Eastern Morocco.  With more than 100 kids between two youth centers, this has been a great experience.  Today, however, opened up a new and rather interesting avenue.  At one of the youth centers, the administration lets two boys with Down’s Syndrome come to camp even though they don’t have the money to pay.  They have been a great addition to the camp.

As the son of a mother who works with special needs, I’ve grown up believing that special needs children need to be integrated with other children.  It helps the kids with special needs socialize while still giving them the care they need.  It also helps the kids without special needs because it teaches them how to interact with special needs kids.  Integration is extremely important.

So, when it comes to the developing world, dealing with special needs is usually a grand failure.  When a family has a kid with special needs, they are usually raised inside the house.  This has many facets to it.  Some families are ashamed.  Others don’t want their child to be subject to the harassment—many Autistic locals are simply referred to as The Local Crazy Man.  Whatever the reason, people with special needs are not integrated well into Moroccan Society.

Today I found a dark side to this divide.  90% of the kids at camp interact well with these two special needs kids.  The problem is three little boys who seem to take pleasure in bullying, harassing, and assaulting these boys.  It started off looking friendly.  The kids would ask the special needs boys to sit next to them.  They would whisper things in their ears.  The thing is, the special needs boys seemed to dislike what was being said and leave.

Later in the morning, I saw one of the boys give the special needs boy a hug.  He obvious didn’t like it and tried to get away.  The boy wouldn’t let go.  It eventually led to both kids on the ground and upset.  Only a few minutes later, I watched as a boy ran past one of the special needs boys and straight-up smacked him in the face before running off.  I ended up yelling at two of the young boys and bringing them to the Moroccan Staff.  The thing is, even the older Moroccans don’t know how to work with kids with special needs so they saw it as nothing more than boys messing around.

On the plus side, I just received an email telling me that I was picked to work with the Special Olympics of Morocco this September.  I really want to learn how to work with Special Needs kids in this country.  I worked with them a lot in America, but the dynamic is very different here.  Something like this could be well worth dedicating my entire service to.  Now if I could only figure out how to access the special needs population in my own town…


One thought on “Working with Special Needs in a Developing Country

  1. Thanks for sharing that story. I’m glad to hear the “powers that be” let the children with Down Syndrome participate, even though they don’t have the money.

    I’d be curious to hear more about how the special needs dynamic is different where you are.

    As far as tapping into the Special Needs Community in your own town email me with your city, etc., and I can ask around to find out any nearby organizations that may be able to help with your service.

    Email: dad at littlebirdsdad dot com

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