N was one of our wheelchair-bound students. His speech’s usually slurred and slow. His psychomotor skills and reflexes were affected as well.

He slipped in the toilet a couple of times before and a few days ago, I happened to be one of the lecturers helping him in one of these times.

***

I don’t usually meet people with special needs until this job. My closest purposeful encounter with them were on two occasions, once when I’m about 19, helping out with the Movement of the Intellectually Disable Singapore at a charity event called Heart and Craft. The second time was when I’m about 29, socialising with residents from the Institute of Mental Health.

I had always felt awkward with them and there’s no difference this time too. But I’m already a lot better at interacting with them, just keeping in mind that I need to treat them the same as how I treat my friends. Awkwardness was really the last thing N needed at this moment.

I nudged myself to speak to him normally at normal speed, “Your Dad said 30 minutes? I’m sure he will be here sooner than that. We’ll be here with you in the meanwhile, do not worry.”

After we settled N in the pantry to rest, I proceeded to his classroom to gather his belongings for him, getting ready for him to leave home. I was sure I minimised disruption to the on-going class. That didn’t stop two of his concerned classmates, GJ and another who understood exactly what happened even though I told them nothing. They ran to the pantry with concerned faces.

“Are you ok?” GJ spoke. A cheerful yet concerned face which a friend in need will find comfort in. And the three of them would have normal conversations any friends would have when one of your buddy got into some trouble.

***

This is the Generation Z I know. They live in diversity and most of them embrace diversity. It’s ok for you to be a bit more special than others. You are still my friend. Their empathy is raw but if properly guided, they will shine brighter than this old Xennial who is always standing at one side observing them and blogging about them.