Special educators say early detection and intervention is significant to the development of kids with special needs. Angarika Gogoi has more on this subject that seems to have a lot more relevance in today’s world with more kids needing it than before.
Rejimo K says that working as a special educator is a matter of pride, and also a challenge. “It is the small achievements every day that make us proud,” she says.
She has been a special educator for seven years, stumbling upon the vocation by chance. Her friend was a volunteer at a rehabilitation centre, when she came across special education and decided to switch from the IT industry. She now works at Playstreet, a special education school in Bengaluru.
Life as a special educator is certainly not a bed of roses. Educators say that making parents understand their child’s needs and requirements are initial tasks, which are often very difficult. “Along with catering to the needs of the child, it is important to speak with parents, whose acceptance of the child and situation are the first step towards progress,” says Shaila Hegde, a special educator with Asha Integrated School, who has been in the profession for 18 years now.
For Kaberi Chakraborty, the reason behind training as a special educator was very personal. As the parent of an autistic child, she didn’t understand how she could help her child when he was first diagnosed.
“My child was two years old at the time and I didn’t understand what was happening to him,” she said. Kaberi said she decided to approach the situation in a pragmatic manner rather than emotionally. Once she began working as a special educator and meeting parents, she could understand what they were going through.
Special educators use unique teaching techniques in case of differently abled children. Rejimo spoke about how pictures and colours play an important role in aiding communication. “These children love to be with other kids but don’t know how to express it as they lack social skills, and this manifests in other ways,” she said.
Shaila said she uses plants as a form of therapy. “Tending to plants helps kids understand responsibility and develop a nourishing nature,” she said.
Amrita K, chief operating officer at Stepping Stones, a school for special needs, said that in addition to developing individual care plans for kids, they also acquaint the child with routines at the start of the day, especially with autistic children.
Earlier the better
Early intervention is very important when it comes to children with special needs, as learning is greater at younger ages. Emphasizing its importance, Amrita said they have children in the age band of 18 months to 14 years.
“Early intervention helps these children in communicating, containing repetitive behaviour and socialization. This is especially true for autistic children,” said Kaberi, echoing Amrita’s concerns.
Census 2011 reveals that one in 100 children suffers from one or other disability, but Amrita says the number is rising to one in 68 children. There aren’t proper tools for diagnosis and assessment of the child either, she says. “In this scenario, medical practitioners are crucial in making parents aware about the child’s situation,” she said.
The school has come up with a screening tool to detect special children early on, when parents are not too sure about their children having a disability.
Early intervention also enables the child to be easily incorporated in a mainstream, conventional teaching environment. “We want that after the child has trained with us, at five or six years of age, they can be initiated into a mainstream school because this is what parents wish,” says Rejimo.
However, special educators did voice their concerns regarding how children with special needs are treated in these schools. A special educator from Stepping Stones, who requested anonymity, said that it’s very important for other kids to be sensitized so that their behaviour does not alienate these children. The person also raised concerns about action needing to be taken against practitioners who aren’t well-qualified and do not have licences, as they not only charge an exorbitant amount, but also waste the child’s time, especially in the early stages.
In the case of older kids or those detected at a later stage, the experts suggest vocational training.
Special educators also assert that during this period of early intervention, it’s not just the special educator who is crucial for learning. Speech therapists help children communicate, and occupational therapists train them in daily tasks like brushing their teeth.
Jyoti Mehta, a speech therapist, says that although it’s a challenging job, it’s also good fun. “Children are raw and pick up things easily. They can surprise you and make you smile in the way they interact with you,” she said. She said they have several children who sometimes stammer and cannot string their sentences easily. The main objective of a speech therapist is to first help children communicate their needs and wants, and progress will follow.
She emphasized the importance of coordination between special educators, speech therapists, and occupational therapists, for the holistic development of the child.
Sonali Sinha, an occupational therapist, says her role is to help children achieve and regain the characteristic behaviour of their age. “The objective is functional independence, where the child can go about daily activities with ease,” she says. Since each kid has special needs, their approach in dealing with each child is different.
“Parent cooperation is very important. We need their complete involvement in ensuring that what we teach them in school is practiced at home,” she said.
“When the child is able to address her parents, or when parents tell us the child has started responding to them, it makes me happy and warms my heart,” says Rejimo.
(Angarika Gogoi is a Guwahati-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)