When few of us decided to start our school, our intention was to do something new. We opened our doors to children irrespective of their learning ability. We have completed seven years of our journey. It was without a doubt very meaningful and also a learning process for us. Each day is a success story, each day brings us a new experience in which our knowledge is further stimulated. While our endeavour has opened before us the wonders that lie in the child’s mind, it has also brought before us the dreary picture of apathy, exclusion and neglect by the society towards such children. Social acceptance for children with Autism is the need of the hour.
The purpose of writing, thus, is to explore the concept of social interdependence of children with special needs and social acceptance for children with Autism as its key factor. The basis of this study is the data collected from Blooming Dale Academy, (High School) one of the few integrated schools in Kolkata, the state of West Bengal, India. While it is found beyond doubt that it is possible to develop the children with special needs according to their capabilities and reach them to a specific goal of social in(ter)dependence it also observed that acceptance by the family and the society is a definite and necessary factor in cases.
The number of children with special needs is on the rise. This is a global phenomenon and India is not an exception to this. But the problem lies in the fact that there is no accurate data available on the number of children with special needs (CWSN) and the rate of increase in the number of such children.
The reason for this may be that among the poorer and lesser educated section of the population there is a lack of awareness, or even the tendency to conceal any “disability” in their children. So many cases go undetected and this affects the accurate reading of the situation.
However, regarding autism, the statistics say that in India the number of autistic children is one in every 1000. Mutism in children is also on the rise. if this and other difficulties are added to the list, the number will be staggering.
In the Indian situation, families who have children with disabilities see themselves as the weaker section of society. Superstitions, witchcraft attitudes and behaviours have been barriers to the development of children with special needs.
The acceptance on the part of the parents is an important factor. Parents of children with social needs go through grief, frustration, denial and anger, before the child’s condition is accepted. There is often the tendency to conceal the difficulties in the fear of social isolation. The prevailing socio-cultural context plays a major role in how one perceives children with special needs. Certain beliefs and taboos prevailing in the Indian scenario influence the attitudes and values for inclusion of children with special needs. There is a strong belief in some families that the birth of the child with disability in the present life is attributable to the ‘karma’ from the past life. The family and especially the parents of the child with special needs face a lot of social and emotional stress. Another prevalent notion is about God inflicting the suffering on ‘good people’, to test their resilience and inner strength. I the Indian context, mothers are often blamed for the birth of a child with disability, in the belief that she is punished by God. The Indian mythology depicts persons with disability with a lot of negativity which also has an effect on the social attitude.
Due to lack of awareness in the general tendency is to treat disability like a disease. Either medical opinion is not taken thinking it is incurable or the parents expect miraculous cure with medication. Therefore, with our waiting for the outcome with patience they tend to change doctor’s several times, breaking the consistency of the treatment.
The need for long term counselling is not felt by many. The moment there are some improvements in the condition of the child, the parents consider the child ‘cured’. They move away from medical treatment and specialised help in school in their haste to “mainstream” the child.
Even now despite the recognition of the equal right of a CWSN to live with dignity in the society, the parents of the children feel isolated and helpless. The major concern for parents is age education of the child with special need.
In the education of children with special needs, inclusion has been accepted as the best suitable method. The Right to Education Act 2009 emphasis the right to free and compulsory education for all children including those with special needs. But the real scenario reflects that these children seldom have an access to the reputed schools of the country. The number of school dropouts or out of school is five times more than in the case of mainstream children. The teachers are in most cases not prepared with the wide learning repertoire of contemporary and best practised learning strategies which is necessary to develop these children. So in an inclusive classroom while they progress with the mainstream, the ones with learning difficulties are left begin. In cases where they are innovators, collaborators and the problem solvers, remarkable development has been noticed among such children.
As observed, the parents of mainstream children have very little acceptance of the children with special needs. This is reflected in the school environment as well as in the society at large. The general idea is that the presence of children with special needs in the classroom affects the pace and standard of teaching in the classroom, and the complaint, that their children acquire “imitative” behaviour while associating with children with special needs.
This attitude of exclusion often makes inclusive education and uphill task even for the schools that are willing to implement the system.
Mainstream parents are seen to withdraw their children from schools where there are a number of children with special needs. The parents of these children in turn also feel isolated and are often discriminated against by the mainstream parents.
This exclusion is just the reflection of the tendency in the society, yet, to isolate the persons with disability. So even outside schools is the parents withdraw their children if they are seen playing with a child with special needs in the park.
The social acceptance for children with Autism can only be felt at the over level. Here empathetic behaviour has been noticed. The children from the mainstream are seen to assist their friends in difficulty in academics, in climbing stairs and other daily activities. The children in special needs also reach out to their peers eagerly trying to cope up with their difficulties in order to join them in their activities. There is a clear communication and an understanding far more important than the occasional cases of teasing or bullying.
The urgency to think more consciously about the needs of these children is not yet felt to the extent t be reflected in the social fabric. Most of the schools, colleges, railway stations have no provisions like elevators, toilets for challenged persons. To go into higher education still remains a challenge for these people.
Success stories of persons overcoming disability to attain their goals are many, yet, the lack of social acceptance makes it difficult to create for them a situation of social in(ter)dependence.
– By Pradipta Kanungo
Principal of Blooming Dale Academy, Kolkata