By Shyamalee Mahibalan –
Under the UN convention on the rights of the Persons with Disabilities – ‘Children should have full enjoyment of all Human Rights and fundamental freedoms on equal basis with other children, and recalling obligations to that end undertaken by the State to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Sadly, in recent there has been many incidences where the rights of a special needs person have been violated.
In the year 1912 Sri Lanka established the school for the Deaf and Blind even before the UN convention was drafted, indeed a milestone to be admired. The Protection of the Rights of People with Disabilities Act was passed in 1996 along with the National policy on Disability in 2003. According to a 2014 study there are 26 national special schools around the country, as well as 525 special units attached to mainstream schools. In 1968, the move towards integrated education was launched with Special Needs Children being included in regular schools creating an inclusive education system. Despite all these measures there are 88,740 mentally and physically handicapped children between the ages of 5 -19 years, of which 62% are receiving education through mainstream schooling, and 34% have not received any form of education. According to statistics severely handicapped children with intellectual disabilities abstain from attending schools. The question remains where did we go wrong? Lack of understanding of what and how autism works as well as zero awareness of the needs of these children has made helpless parents to seek guidance on educators who are unable to help.
According to global statistics 1 in 160 people have (ASD) and there are over 6.4 million diagnosed of ADHD, these number keeps increasing every year.
In 1943, Leo Kanner published the first systematic description of early infantile autism. He concluded that this was a neurodevelopmental disorder and the term he coined was “escape from reality’, and suggested that each child must be treated as unique.
Children with special needs differ socially, mentally, and or physically from the average children to such an extent that they require modifications of usual school practices. Special education serves children with emotional, behavioural, or cognitive impairments hearing, vision, speech, or learning disabilities. Every child is different. Some may have many symptoms and others only a few, and some can be severely challenged while some are gifted. In a typical classroom between one and two students are diagnosed with ADHD and its very common to have gone un diagnosed in to adulthood. Severe autism is characterized by little to no language development, relatively low intelligence on the IQ scale, repetitive behaviours such as flapping one’s hands or rocking, and often a lifelong need for intensive emotional, social and psychological care.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) mainly known as Asperger’s and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by social impairments. These children along with kids with other Learning Disabilities(LD) like Dyslexia, Dysnomia and dyscalculia can function in a normal school system but with certain adjustments and intervention remedies provided by the school. Autism Spectrum disorder (ASD) also called high functioning in the middle of the spectrum is often misunderstood. This means these children usually look normal on the outside but their primary characteristic is profound difficulty in perceiving social and emotional cues and they are highly intelligent and often characterised as gifted.
There are other disorders closely related to autism and borders on low functioning.
William Syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Landau-Kleffner syndrome, Prader-Willie Syndrome, Angelman Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, Tardive Dyskinesia are commonly seen with autism.
Breaking down Special Needs in to four Categories;
Thinking: understanding and learning: Downs Syndrome, Autism, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Processing disorders. These children may find all learning activities difficult, or have difficulties with some learning activities such as reading and spelling.
Emotional and behavioural difficulties: these children may have very low self-esteem and lack confidence. They may find it difficult to follow rules or settle down and behave properly in school.
Speech, language and communication: these children may have difficulty in expressing themselves or understanding what others are saying to them. They may find it hard to make friends or relate to others. They may find it difficult to make sense of the world around them or to organise themselves.
Physical or sensory difficulties: these children may have a disability or a medical condition that has an impact upon their learning. They may have a visual or hearing impairment.
It is paramount to identify and intervene during the most crucial first 7 years of a child’s development stage. This is the period the child is developing his or her intellectual, social and emotional capabilities.
Challenging it may seem trained professionals and educators are vital. The reason these children are kept out of mainstream is the ongoing stigma associated with it. There are stories of parents and teachers who refuse to have a special needs child in their class and some parents fear that their child’s education may suffer if there is a child with special needs in the class. Especially children with ASD are mostly visual learners, while others could be Auditory or Kinaesthetic Learners.
There are many intervention theories that can be explored for example ADHD, Dyslexia and Dyscalculia there can always be a different math and language class as well as different exam papers under the normal school system. Extra timing during exams and special cubicles or rooms during exams can be of great help for these children.
The curriculum too should be tailored in special schools in the case of kids with Low functioning autism. Applied Behavioural Analysis is also a type of and intervention method that can improve social, communication and learning skills of kids. It is evident that the education system lacks expertise and the capacity to deal with such children.
Teaching special Needs Children is an ongoing learning process for the parents and educators since every child is unique and every intervention is different.
*Shyamalee Mhibalan is a freelance Sri Lankan journalist who lives in Singapore. She now works mainly with young children.