In his article titled “The ‘special’ child” (8 May), AK Ghosh has succinctly brought out what a school or a teacher should do for such a student. However, the role of the child’s parents and family is much more important because even when he goes to school, a small child is with his mother for most of the day.
Also, most of the cognitive development of a child takes place before age five, so it is even more important that a ‘special’ child’s immediate family caters fully to his cognitive needs ~ even before the child reaches school-going age.
The role of the hospital where the child is born is equally important. A disability in a new-born may be apparent or appear probable to the attending obstetrician but she would seldom inform the child’s parents solely because no duty is cast on her to do so. Such negligence has catastrophic consequences.
For example, delayed speech in children is generally due to hearing impairment but parents of such children often think that there is a problem with the child’s vocal chords.
By the time the child is fitted with hearing aids, the magic period of five years may have passed leading to delayed or poor cognitive development. In most developed countries, a hearing test is mandatory for new-born children.
Dyslexic children and children with poor eyesight often face a similar problem; they struggle with classes for months together till the real cause of their poor performance is diagnosed.
It is a sad fact that disability is looked down upon in our society which has pejorative words for all kinds of disabilities. Therefore, the natural instinct of the parents of disabled children is to be in a perpetual state of denial which delays succour for the poor child.
Additionally, the incidence of disability in children (due to lack of maternal nutrition and hygiene) is far higher in poorer sections, who are mostly ill-informed about the ways in which the effects of disability could be mitigated though they may be equally concerned about their child’s health and disability.
Even educated and affluent parents of ‘special’ children sometimes abandon them at special schools or hostels, and thus denying them the parental love and affection which would alleviate their suffering.
As far back as 1981, the United Nations General Assembly declared the year as the International Year of Disabled Persons and the decade between 1983 and 1992 as the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons.
Member-countries were encouraged to contemplate the hardships of the disabled, how opportunities for the disabled could be created, ways to ensure that the disabled participated fully in community life and enjoyed all rights and benefits that other citizens had.
Another issue that was discussed related to how world governments could prevent disabilities by controlling viruses and other illnesses that lead to various kinds of disabilities.
Right from 1992, the United Nations has promoted 3 December as Disability Day, or the International Day of People with Disability with the aim of encouraging a better understanding of people affected by a disability and making the public aware of the rights, dignity and welfare of disabled people.
Disability Day is not concerned exclusively with either mental or physical disabilities, but rather encompasses all known disabilities, from Autism to Down Syndrome to Multiple Sclerosis.
With a view to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 December 2006, our Parliament enacted the Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2016.
The delay in implementation of a Convention which the Government had signed as far back as 2007 gives a clue about the lack of seriousness of our society vis-à-vis the rights of the disabled.
The Government needs to adopt a proactive, multi-faceted approach to alleviate the lot of the disabled. In line with more developed countries, pre-natal tests for disability should be encouraged and checking of all new-borns for disability should be made mandatory.
Then, all District Hospitals should have Counselling Centres where qualified personnel can provide guidance to parents of ‘special’ children. Prevention, early detection and proper handling of disability would certainly mitigate the plight of ‘special’ people.
Schools can also help but with perennial overcrowding, it is doubtful if teachers would be able to devote sufficient attention to a ‘special’ child because handling a ‘special’ child is a full-time job.
Moreover, we do not have a sufficient number of teachers who are trained to handle ‘special’ children. This is a crying need because under the Rights of Persons with Disability Act, schools cannot refuse admission to ‘special’ children.
In the given circumstances, we can say that at best a teacher can make the other children aware of the ‘special’ child’s problem and encourage them to adopt a compassionate attitude towards the special child but only parents can provide the required emotional and physical support so necessary for the ‘special’ child to cope with his studies and the school environment.
Consider a hearing-impaired child of six to seven years. His caregiver would have to talk to the child incessantly to familiarise him with language and pronunciation.
The caregiver would also have to repeat the lessons taught in school because the child could have missed a good part of what the teacher had taught. Of course, the teacher can also help by seating the child in the middle of the first row and ensuring that the child understood what was being taught.
Other ‘special’ children also require similar care and effort from their parents. Hence, for the most part, it is only the parents and the immediate family of the ‘special’ child who play a leading role in ensuring that the child realises his or her full potential.
Modern technology has helped ‘special’ people immeasurably but the cost of technology is a limiting factor. Except the basic models, all implements are priced beyond the reach of ordinary parents.
For example, the Jaipur Foot is quite cheap but advanced prostheses can cost lakhs; the difference between their performance is enormous. The same is true of hearing aids and other assistive devices.
A special child or even a differently abled young man deserves the best which can be provided. Here also the Government can help by providing subsidies in deserving cases.
Finally, it is the attitude of the ‘special’ child, which parents and teachers have to cultivate, that matters the most in the special child’s development. Stephen Hawking, who battled multiple disabilities to become one of the greatest physicists, cosmologists and authors of this century had some excellent advice for ‘special’ people: “My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”
The writer is a retired Principal Chief Commissioner of Income-Tax