EDUCATION TRIBUNE Tuesday, May 27, 2003, Chandigarh, India

Scant empathy for the mentally impaired
here is not a single institute for kids with multiple learning disabilities in the region. Where in the developed countries, child guidance is an inseparable part of social welfare schemes, in India the concept seems to be still in a fledgling state, finds Aditi Tandon.

Awareness about disorders negligible, says man on a mission
t is a matter of concern that the level of awareness with regard to the complex forms of disabilities is very low. Among these lesser-known disabilities is the pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), further categorised into autism, Rettís Syndrome and Aspergerís Syndrome.




Scant empathy for the mentally impaired

The visually impaired at the Institute for the Blind learn to write braille with the help of slates
The visually impaired at the Institute for the Blind learn to write Braille with the help of slates, especially designed and developed to help them to decipher their script. ó A Tribune photo

There is not a single institute for kids with multiple learning disabilities in the region. Where in the developed countries, child guidance is an inseparable part of social welfare schemes, in India the concept seems to be still in a fledgling state, finds Aditi Tandon.

Even after 56 years of Independence, we have not been able to count the number of disabled in our country. For some strange reason, this segment of society had to wait for 53 years to secure a place in the census. Although a sample survey was conducted in 1991 to ascertain the number of handicapped and the nature of their disability, the results were not concrete enough to qualify as realistic.

It said: "1.9 per cent of the total population in India (the global percentage is 10) is affected by disabilities like visual, hearing, speech and locomotor. There are 20 disabled per thousand persons in rural areas and 16 per thousand in urban areas. There are 4 million leprosy-affected persons."

If this survey is any indication of the magnitude of the problem, there is major cause for alarm. It states that 20 per cent of Indian children are handicapped. Further, mental retardation affects about 3 per cent in the age group 1-14 years. Even while the report of the 2001 Census is awaited, itís pertinent to mention that India has a long way to go so far as proper infrastructure for early detection of disability among children and consequent formulation of educational programmes for them is concerned.

India still has no Institute for the children suffering from multiple disabilities. Besides, there is negligible awareness about acute developmental disorders like autism and learning disabilities like dyslexia. Naturally negligible services are available for kids suffering from these.

Incidentally, the law is friendly to the disabled kids, who are preferably called "exceptional children" and defined as those who deviate from normal children in any way and who need specialised attention. The aim of educating them is the same as that of educating normal kids, but the means of education differ and demand emphasis on equality rather than identity.

However, despite the law, a very low percentage of these kids actually get absorbed in the mainstream. Where in the developed countries, child guidance is an inseparable part of social welfare schemes, in India the concept seems to be still in a fledgling state. Even in the apparently aware Chandigarh, there are no guidance centers to offer advice to parents of special children.

A survey of educational services available for special children in the region presents a grim picture. Only the visually impaired seem to have something of access to educational services, being provided by blind institutes. The mentally challenged hardly have anything to choose from. The service framework for children suffering from acute developmental disorders like autism and learning disabilities like dyslexia is virtually absent.

There are some options available for the visually handicapped in the region. The education strategy follows two lines: one for the partially sighted and the other for the totally blind. Because the partially sighted can use their vision to understand concepts, they can be best taught by proper adaptation of visual material and special instruction methods.

Totally blind kids, however, depend on auditory and tactual approaches of education. While disability experts suggest that the degree of blindness and the age of its onset must be considered in devising educational strategy, the same if not being done.

No school in the region is ready to accommodate children who have lost their sight after birth. This, despite the fact that research confirms: "deviations in vision have not caused significant discrepancies in growth patterns. Such kids can be educated with normal kids.

Lack of sensitivity at the level of instructors and lack of funds hampers the growth of such children. In Punjab, Ludhiana has two institutes for the visually handicapped. The Government Institute for the Blind, Jamalpur and the Vocational Rehabilitation Centre, Kitchlu Nagar. While the former does not have adequate infrastructure to accommodate many, the latter offers expensive, almost unaffordable, vocational training and education.

There are institutes for the Blind in Jalandhar, Amritsar, Malerkotla and Ferozepore in Punjab. Haryana also has institutes at Panipat and Faridabad, apart from Ambala where one such centre for the blind is run by a Sanatan Dharam organisation. In Hisar Red Cross School takes care of them. As for Himachal, there is one middle-level (up to class VIII) Blind School in Dhali, but it reportedly has only three teachers and 20 students.

Despite a vast framework for the blind children all over Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, the recent years have shown that many visually handicapped students drop out of the institutes in the hope of enrolling themselves with the Institute for the Blind in Chandigarh. Principal of this school in Sector 26, Mr K.R. Sood, informs: "We have children coming from all over the region, even from Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. But we cannot accommodate all of them due to obvious reasons."

This school, run by the Society for the Care of the Blind, with Adviser to the UT Administrator as its ex-officio chairman, offers education upto class XII level. It is much sought-after being the only blind school in the region to offer senior higher secondary-level studies, apart from other services free of cost. With a record pass percentage of 100, the institute is always on top priority of parents whose wards are visually handicapped.

Financially self-sufficient, the institute is an example for others to emulate. With its networking, the institute has been able to add the following features to its infrastructure: the Braille embosser, the library, computer literacy section and braille short-hand.

Ironically, India does not have a single Institute that can deal with the children with multiple disabilities. Incidentally, the numbers of such children are on the rise because there is no care available for them.

For the mentally challenged Chandigarh runs the following institutions:

Vatika School for Deaf and Dumb is run by the Punjab ISA Officers Wives Association in Sector 19. It accommodates children up to the middle level. (Phone number: 549101)

Lionís School for Deaf and Dumb, Sector 18.

A One private institution for the deaf and dumb run in 146, Sector 27. It offers education up to class X.

The Indian Council for Child Welfare runs a society for the deaf and dumb in Sector 38, called Prayaas. This organisation deals with children suffering from orthopaedic handicap. (Phone no. 690872)

Government Institute for the Mentally Retarded Children run by Government Medical College and Hospital, Sector 32. (Phones: 647760)

While most of these institutes offer vocational training to kids, there is little benefit of such training unless people come out and buy the products created by special children. Maharastha and Hyderabad have experimented with the concept of sheltered workshops where special children get together at one place, create art and craft products and sell the same from the venue of the workshop.

In this region, most vocational training centres around caning of chairs, weaving of dusters and candle-making. But more often than not the market outlet for such products is a problem. Sheltered workshops, as a measure of self-employment for special children, are yet to be experimented in the region.



Awareness about disorders negligible, says 
man on a mission

Neil RobertsIt is a matter of concern that the level of awareness with regard to the complex forms of disabilities is very low. Among these lesser-known disabilities is the pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), further categorised into autism, Rettís Syndrome and Aspergerís Syndrome. The most difficult to tackle is dyslexia, in which a child cannot write properly, dyscalculia, in which the child is uncomfortable with numbers and dysgraphia, a writing disability in which the childís brain fails to process the stimuli.

The situation is pathetic and parents of autistic children often complain about the lack of medical facilities for diagnosis of the disability. A parent, who repeatedly sought medical advice to know why his child was socially cut off to the extent that he disliked even his motherís touch, says that no doctor in the city could diagnose the child for autism.

In a city where the diagnosis of autism or dyslexia is a problem, a debate on whether there are any special services available for such kids is futile. There is apparently just one centre providing remedial education for such kids. Housed in Saupinís School in Sector 32, this Centre for the mentally challenged children, besides slow learners and children with developmental disorders and learning disabilities, is handled by Neil Roberts, who has a Bachelors degree in Mental Retardation from the National Institute for the Physically Handicapped, Secunderabad, and later a Masters in Special Education. He is pursuing M Phil in Social Work from Delhi University.

Supported by highly professional individuals, this centre called Savera holds separate classes for all three categories of children. Informs Neil: "The basic aim is to socially integrate children who are differentially abled or are disabled. We adopt the method of remedial education that helps children cope with the challenges of integration."

This centre has a resource room for children, who are offered different levels of education, depending on the problem they face. The school has 25 kids enrolled as of now. Among these are the mentally challenged kids, eight autistic and six dyslexic kids.

"There is no known cause for autism. Hence, it is beyond the realm of medicine. The West has been researching this disability for the past 40 years, but there is no known cure till date. This disability affects verbal and non-verbal communication. Often such kids remain aloof from the world, show repetitive behaviour and at times lose speech completely. Behavioural symptoms are diverse," explains Neil.

Strangely, autistic kids can have a very sharp memory and can exactly emulate television programmes. "We have functional academic classes for them. Here we teach them basic things - making a card, concepts of money, how to read bus signboards, how to differentiate a ladies toilet from menís toilet, basic safety rules, recognition of danger signs, etc. The idea is to make them independent to some level."

For dyslexic children there are corrective measures. "There are better chances of correcting learning disabilities if kids are sent to us at the KG level. At a later stage, they are so conditioned that the learning process slows down. We also have referral services for such kids. The city has two counsellors for such kids ó Ms Sharada Rangarajan and Ms Aarti Kapoor.

The common problems in enabling better service provision for kids with disabilities, Neil says. "I know of parents who confine their kids at home for fear of social stigma. Chandigarh, being a high socio-economic set-up, does not make easy space for special kids. Even schools have not ensured 3 per cent reservation for such kids in each class."

The schools in Chandigarh have completely ignored a circular issued some time back by the Commissioner, Disabilities, UT, Mr G.K. Marwah. The circular required them to reserve 3 per cent seats in all classes for the disabled kids. Most schools in the city are not disabled-friendly. Only St Stephenís in Sector 45 has cared to provide ramps. The rest of the schools are fairly inaccessible. Lack of trained staff to deal with special kids is another problem. Not many know that the Rehabilitation Council of India (under the Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992) offers registration to the following professionals in the field of special education. ó Aditi





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