– Reshma Ravishanker
While mainstream schools have struggled to wade through the pandemic, centres offering education and therapy for children with special needs have had to battle challenges multifold.
Be it a physical or intellectual challenge, children with special needs have had to be provided extra care through the pandemic and their institutes have remained optimistic about providing uninterrupted learning while incessantly juggling between online and offline classes.
In one such centre, the Spastics Society of Karnataka, a team of volunteers and teachers offered to work overtime, teach smaller batches of children even at odd hours and accommodated most special requests from the parents. The centre has children with Cerebral Palsy, intellectual disabilities, Autism and learning disabilities. For each of these categories, tailored changes were made as classes went online.
For instance, in the case of a child with Down’s Syndrome, emphasis was on keeping them physically fit, creating a routine in the absence of school and involving them in household chores. If the child has autism, parents are trained to ensure the child does not get adversely impacted due to deviations from the routine.
Padmavathi Janardhanan, principal, Centre for Special Education, Spastics Society of Karnataka explained that while continuous revisions are being done, teaching new concepts to such children always remains a challenge.
The school took to either individual online training or in-person training with groups of maximum three children to cater to their individual needs. “Access to technology and parents’ attention for assistance were taken into consideration. There are households where there are two children and the other child is attending a conventional school. If there is just one gadget, the child attending mainstream school gets preference. In some cases, parents said there was only one mobile at home and teachers had to oblige for online classes late in the evenings after parents returned from work,” she said.
They also conducted a workshop for mothers on how to deal with stress while keeping the specially-abled child at home round the clock. While there were no new enrolments last year, this year, they have planned ahead on accommodating new children.
Shanti, special educator and owner, Listening Ears, a centre that caters to children with hearing impairment, slow learning and autism said that it would be unfortunate if all the learning is undone during the pandemic. “While we are conducting regular online classes for children since the pandemic began last year, some parents insist on coming to the centre and taking offline training as the children’s attention span is very less and they make no eye contact,” she said.
Children are moody some days, they get cranky. Reaching our goals is a challenge, say experts. “Some parents of children who have to learn challenges, especially those over the age of four looks at making a shift to conventional school later. In such cases, learning must match,” said Shanti.
Harini (name changed), a special educator said that access to technology is also a hurdle. “Not all parents can afford a gadget with an internet connection for the child. Such children cannot be reached even on video calls. We record sessions for them and send it on one of the parents’ WhatsApp numbers hoping that their education continues without a break. Although online classes have commenced, the attendance is very poor,” she remarked. Harini works with children who have speech and hearing disabilities. She said that the therapy sessions which were usually held thrice a week have come down to just one. “Children look for hand gestures and lip movements. If they do not see the tutor physically, the learning is bound to be affected,” she said adding that they continued online and in-person classes except during the lockdown.Campus, News