Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Voices from India: A Look into the Lives of Children with Special Needs & Their Families

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Voices from India: A Look into the Lives of Children with Special Needs & Their Families

Article excerpt

Harsha is a "hugger." The first day I met him, he smiled and hugged me gently as we walked together into his classroom at the Beautiful Gate Special School (BGSS). His mom lovingly tugged at his arm, pulling him away. "I'm sorry," she said, looking concerned that her son had once again crossed the line of physical contact in a society that is so modest that men and women do not routinely shake hands. For parents of children with autism, teaching their children to follow the accepted social rules and customs is a daily challenge. In India, where barriers such as extreme poverty, social policy, cultural stigma, and the caste system have tended to isolate people with disabilities, many children and their families struggle to integrate into their communities. And like parents here in the U.S., they worry about their children's future and who will care for them when they are gone.

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Many Needs--and Few Resources

Learning about the lives of children with disabilities and their families in other countries can bring a fresh perspective on where we are and how far we have come here in the U.S. I had the privilege of visiting the BGSS in Mysore, India in 2008 and 2009, volunteering as a pediatric physical therapist to provide direct treatment, consultation, and teacher training on behalf of Pediatric Therapy Services (PTS) Inc. (www.ptsinc.net). PTS provides advanced therapy staffing solutions to school districts, charter schools and early intervention programs--and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to share our clinical expertise and best practices with BGSS.

The school was founded in 2005 by Special Educator Il Young Kim and Sunita Locklear, the mother of a child with a rare syndrome that resulted in developmental delays. They shared with one another their individual vision to establish a school for children with multiple disabilities, as there were no existing educational placements available in the city. The school serves about two dozen students in a small, rented house. Each year, they must turn away as many children as they admit because of lack of space.

For many of the children, Beautiful Gate is their first experience attending school. Prior to attending BGSS, most were confined in their homes and had few opportunities for intellectual or social development. I recently got the following email from Sunita about a child whose family was desperate for a school placement:

"I had a little girl come for an interview with her mother from the slum close to our apartment. She is an 8 yr old, MR child who has never been to school. Her mother told me that she locks her up at home all day while she goes to work because no one is willing to watch her and when she was young, the village doctor told her to bury her in sand up to her armpits to help correct her legs. So, she did that for 6 months!!! This is their version of physical therapy."

Stark Contrasts Across Countries

During my visit to India, I was overwhelmed by the contrast between special education services in Mysore compared to what we have available to students in the U.S. In India, only 10% of children in need of special education receive individualized education plans (IEPs). BGSS has instituted an evaluation process and individual student goals--a progressive approach compared to many specialized schools. One BGSS parent said, "There are a few other special schools in the city, but in most places, children with disabilities are given training or schooling without much consideration for individual or specific needs or abilities." The result of this lack of identification and adaptation of the learning environment is that both teachers and students are left without many of the basic tools they need for success. Additional training for regular-education teachers on how to work with children with special needs would go a long way toward making integration a more viable option in many schools. …

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