The plight of spe­cial chil­dren

The Pak Banker - - 6BUSINESS - Ar­baz Omar

Too of­ten, even in our own day, chil­dren with spe­cial needs have been set apart and ex­cluded. Too of­ten, state and fed­eral laws add to to their chal­lenges, in­stead of re­mov­ing bar­ri­ers and open­ing new paths of op­por­tu­nity. Too of­ten, they are made to feel that there is no place for them in the life of our coun­try.

This at­ti­tude is a grave dis­ser­vice to these beau­ti­ful chil­dren, to their fam­i­lies and to our coun­try. But what ex­actly are spe­cial needs? An es­ti­mated 4% of Pak­istans to­tal pop­u­la­tion can be clas­si­fied as a spe­cial needs child and it is com­mon enough word in Pak­istan, yet do we un­der­stand its in­her­ent mean­ing?

Spe­cial needs is a child with med­i­cal, men­tal or be­havioural needs that will re­quire on­go­ing as­sis­tance and sup­port. It can also be de­fined by what chil­dren can't do - by mile­stones un­met, foods for­bid­den, ac­tiv­i­ties avoided, ex­pe­ri­ences de­nied. These mi­nuses hit fam­i­lies hard, and may make these 'spe­cial needs' seem like a tragic des­ig­na­tion. Some par­ents will al­ways mourn their child's lost po­ten­tial, and many con­di­tions be­come more trou­bling over time.

Other fam­i­lies may find that their child's chal­lenges make tri­umphs sweeter, and that weak­nesses are of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by amaz­ing strengths.

Chil­dren with spe­cial needs are not an eas­ily de­fined group. Some have very ob­vi­ous and well re­searched dis­abil­ity, such as Down Syn­drome or cere­bral palsy; oth­ers may have spe­cific learn­ing needs be­cause of dys­lexia or gift­ed­ness for ex­am­ple. What de­fines them is the fact that the in need of ad­di­tional help and moral sup­port in some ar­eas of de­vel­op­ment.

Spe­cial needs it­self is not a mono­tone gen­er­al­i­sa­tion that can be fixed with a sim­i­lar blan­ket like pol­icy like extra time in ex­ams or spe­cial schools for these chil­dren.

Fam­i­lies of chil­dren with spe­cial needs have very lit­tle in com­mon. A fam­ily deal­ing with de­vel­op­ment de­lays will have dif­fer­ent con­cerns than one deal­ing with a chronic ill­ness or with that fam­ily deal­ing with men­tal ill­ness or learn­ing prob­lems or be­havioural chal­lenges.

The term 'spe­cial ed­u­ca­tional needs' has a le­gal def­i­ni­tion: chil­dren with spe­cial ed­u­ca­tional needs all have learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties or dis­abil­i­ties that make it harder for them to learn or ac­cess ed­u­ca­tion than most chil­dren of the same age with these chil­dren of­ten need­ing extra help from that given to other chil­dren of the same age.

One of the best ways to help and so­cialise such chil­dren is by in­te­grat­ing them into so­ci­ety through par­tic­i­pa­tion in sports and other ac­tiv­i­ties,thus al­low­ing them to ad­just and cir­cum­nav­i­gate the bar­ri­ers around them.

This will carry over into their ev­ery­day life and sub­se­quent school ex­pe­ri­ences. In­te­gra­tion also gives dis­abled chil­dren the chance to make friends and so­cial­ize with chil­dren of their age group and through this in­ter­ac­tion they will learn to value com­mu­ni­ca­tion, con­ver­sa­tion and will learn how to func­tion in­de­pen­dently and be­come an in­te­gral part of their peer group and of so­ci­ety.

Non dis­abled chil­dren will also ben­e­fit from an in­te­grated pro­gram and will learn them­selves from in­ter­act­ing with a child with spe­cial needs.

They learn to ac­cept dif­fer­ences at an age when dif­fer­ences are no­ticed but prej­u­dices have not yet de­vel­oped.

In­ter­act­ing with other chil­dren who have a va­ri­ety of needs teaches chil­dren how to focus on in­di­vid­u­als and not on the dis­abil­ity, pro­vid­ing a life­time long value of re­gard­ing these spe­cial chil­dren as valu­able mem­bers of so­ci­ety.

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