The community has been asked to help in the effort to empower people with disability. Making the appeal last Thursday, the National Committee for the Welfare of the Disabled sought the support of the community urging it to play its part in improving the services “provided to people with disability.”
The struggle to empower people with disability starts with children born with both physical and mental problems. It goes beyond lip service and the meetings of national committees. There are not enough schools for disabled children. The existing schools that cater to them do not have enough qualified teachers, either.
For example, the common types of disabilities in Oman are children born with autism and Down Syndrome. At the few schools that cater to these needs, most of the personnel are “minders” but classified as teachers for parents by these institutions. They are more a day-care centre than an actual place of learning.
The other disturbing factor about private institutions for children with special needs is that they charge exorbitant fees that are beyond the pockets of many parents.
Sadly, the birth of a disabled child does not take into consideration the earnings of parents. Hence, young couples with their first child being disabled go through a challenging time. It starts with the psychology of raising such a child, sleepless nights and the last thing they need is to arrange finances they cannot afford on their own for their education.
The other common factor is that classes mix up children with different disabilities not acknowledging that each category needs different attention. Most importantly, their needs are separate and cannot be streamlined. Then there are issues of having the right space, technology, specialised playground and extra care. For instance, truly qualified teachers would tell you an autistic child or one with Down Syndrome needs three times the attention one would normally reserve for a normal child. Then they are those with attention deficiencies, development and intellectual delays.
But equally important, the few schools that accept children with special needs do not work and collaborate with parents. Neither are any governmental or private agencies. Parents are left to their own devices to deal with the everyday turmoil of raising a disabled child. If it takes a lot to teach such children in just a few hours a day it is certainly a battlefield at home.
They need the power of mutual sharing to deal with the feelings of isolation, anxieties, confusion and even bitterness. Emotional and information support is as important as schooling for their children.
Though the common disabilities, such as autism and Down Syndrome, are well known in Oman, many parents have to deal with other severities, such as cerebral palsy, dyslexia and Tourette Syndrome. Some of the parents do not even know that their children have problems because they cannot recognise the symptoms of a child that has more complex problems like temper tantrums or an obsessive compulsive disorder. They just associate it with disobedience or just mischief. As they grow up to adolescence, the problem becomes harder to contain.
This is where community centres are badly needed for parents to just step out of their houses and drive a short distance to get help instead for their special need children. When the Ministry of Health introduced the health centres in the communities in the 1990s it has removed the inconvenience of patients driving to major hospitals in Muscat for 800,000 residents. A similar scheme is needed to satisfy the needs for disability for information dissemination, experience sharing, early intervention services, training and therapy. Such disability services right in the communities would make parents cope better with the upbringing of their disabled children and give them hope knowing that help is near.