Inclusion—particularly when it comes to children with special needs—is an often-misunderstood concept. Led by good intentions but hampered by poor awareness of the multifaceted differences amongst children with special needs, mainstream inclusion efforts often fail to centre the children, instead relegating them to the side-lines and ignoring their agency. Young people with special needs are viewed as helpless victims, rather than individuals with distinct strengths, weaknesses and the power to advocate for themselves.
Born out of a desire to shift agency back to the children, Singaporean advocacy group Superhero Me has harnessed the power of the arts. “We are a ground-up movement focused on empowering children with different abilities,” shares Marvin Tang, co-director of Superhero Me. “Our goal is to build community and enable social mixing through the arts. Through these creative pursuits, we aim to provide opportunities for the children to grow in confidence and ultimately self-advocate.”
As a means of self-expression, it is difficult to think of a channel that lends itself as intuitively to people of all abilities as art does. Even better is the ample room for collaboration creative activities open up. Superhero Me has cultivated a community of volunteers—better known to the children as “captains”—from all walks of life who help to plan, organise and conduct art projects with the kids. These multi-talented volunteers range from digital artists to medical students, and many have no prior experience working with children—particularly those with special needs.
Tang reiterates that there is no prerequisite to learning an inclusive arts approach. “I personally am an example of how everyone can practise inclusion. I would never have thought that I’d be a good fit to work with kids. But once you’re in the community and start to build relationships, you realise that inclusion isn’t some special ability—it’s really just an attitude.”
In that vein, the team at Superhero Me make it a point to value each child as an individual in place of treating its audience like a monolith. Programmes are designed specifically to target different abilities and interests, pairing children together to foster genuine friendships and mutually beneficial partnerships. The ultimate goal, of course, is to have fun and make friends.
Here, with the help of Superhero Me, Vogue Singapore spotlights three bright young Singaporean artists—each with special creative flair and a unique story to tell about the joys of Christmas.
Fong Git Yu, 10 years old
Fong Git Yu has been fascinated with animals since he could crawl. He graduated from Kindle Garden, Singapore’s first inclusive preschool, and now studies at River Valley Primary School. Git Yu, who has autism, has a flair for illustration and science. In 2019, he illustrated a zine with artist Lee Wan Xiang called Why Do Hunters Hunt Animals When They Can Hunt for Gold?, published by Superhero Me.
In his piece for Vogue Singapore, Git Yu illustrates animals gathering for Christmas and having a good time. “I like Christmas because I can get presents, but one disadvantage is that preparing for Christmas is a lot of work, especially because my sister wants to decorate the entire house,” he shares.
Rinn Chan, 10 years old
Rinn Chan has been a part of Superhero Me since she was four years old. She has collaborated on a range of art projects, including ‘Slumber Party’ (2018), an art installation which was exhibited at the National Museum of Singapore as part of Singapore Art Week.
Rinn has autism and a perfect pitch, and is constantly learning how to deal with change and control her emotions better. Since young, Rinn has dreamt up imaginary friends which feature in her doodles. Here, Rinn designs a festive outfit with mistletoe shoulder pads and a parfait headgear.
Aliyya Qisya, 13 years old
Aliyya Qisya is a student leader at Rainbow Centre Margaret Drive School. She accurately describes herself as funny and good with technology. Aliyya has cerebral palsy and global development delay. Her iPad is her augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device and she enjoys short email exchanges.
In her free time, Aliyya enjoys vocalising to Disney songs and being an affectionate big sister to a pair of younger twin siblings. She loves to go out and visit new places, and this artwork was inspired by her trip to S.E.A aquarium—co-created with digital artist Yellow Mushmellow. This year, Aliyya is excited about travelling to Kuala Lumpur for Christmas.