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There was a time when fear of social rejection, lack of support services and sometimes even a parent’s denial would force children with special needs to be kept indoors and away from public eye or have to deal with uncomfortable situations at school or play. But today, there is much more awareness and acceptance about different kinds of disabilities and more importantly the fact that many conditions can improve considerably with appropriate therapy at the right time.
Early intervention also prevents school children getting labelled or misdiagnosed - for example very often pre-school or primary school children are labelled as being slow, autistic, dyslexic or lazy, when the actual problem could be a mild hearing loss that can be tested by a simple screening and easily treated in most cases. This is just one example and there are many for varied kinds of disabilities.
The Government of India in 1996 passed the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995 (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) that defines disability as blindness, low vision, leprosy-cured, hearing impairment, loco-motor disability, mental retardation and mental illness. One of the many points listed in the Act mentions that children with disabilities should be provided free education by the appropriate government. The government should also work towards integrating children with disabilities into regular schools and also make provisions for special schools that cater to their needs. Governments are also required to offer non-formal education programs for children with disabilities to help them get literate, rejoin school, take up vocational training and have access to free books and educational material.
The good news is that there are several organizations in our city that work with children with special needs along with their parents and teachers. While there are hundreds of non-governmental organizations and schools in the city dedicated to a range of special needs for children, we have listed a few well known establishments that can serve as an immediate go-to for information and assistance.
Schools for children with disabilities:
The Gateway School of Mumbai is a non profit school established by the Keshavlal V. Bodani Education Foundation in affiliation with The Gateway Schools, New York. The school located along the Sion Trombay highway at Govandi is dedicated to helping students with learning disabilities develop skills, knowledge, understandings and attitudes that will empower them to lead full and productive lives in society. The school campus has been designed based on the belief that the environment is the third teacher. Thought and attention to detail have gone in to create a space that is conducive to learning from architectural zoning, ramps and lifts for wheelchair access, use of appropriate colour, ambient light and even sound proofing to keep out unwanted ambient sounds. The school houses lower and middle school classrooms, an indoor gym and movement space, interaction rooms for therapies and an outdoor space for nature too. Therapies offered include occupational, physical, speech and language therapies in addition to arts and craft, music, movement and drama, adapted physical education, and life skills classes. The academic programs are a mix of international research based programs adapted for use in the Indian setting with therapies integrated into the curriculum. This school does not have the expertise or use academic programs to serve students with Autism Spectrum Disorder / Asperger’s Syndrome, Intellectual Disabilities, severe or profound hearing and visual impairment and multiple disabilities. For more information call 022-6522-3331, +91-22-25563613 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Aditya Birla World Academy is a relatively new school that has opened in Tardeo that offers a Special Educational Needs team. This team includes trained special educators who observe children and interact with the teachers. They identify the special needs of students and recommend appropriate measures that will help the child integrate into the mainstream. They also have activities conducted by class teachers in the classroom for pre-primary and primary children who are academically advanced. The school counsellors that comprise a child/adult psychiatrist and psychotherapist, and clinical and counselling psychologists work in partnership with parents, teachers and the administration to ensure the all round development of the child. For further details call 022 23528400 / 8401 or e-mail: email@example.com.
AURED (Aural Education for Children with Hearing Impairment) has been working with children from Mumbai as well as other cities in the country and abroad since 1986. When it first began, Auditory Verbal Therapy was fairly unknown and not being used as a tool in India. The concept of Listen and Speak was adopted by the parents of six profoundly deaf children who along with AURED worked to get their children to communicate through spoken language. These children are now adults who can mix with hearing peers, appreciate music, have integrated into society and are also bi-lingual. What started riding on the faith of 6 families, now works with 500 plus children at a facility located at Anand Niketan, King George Vth Memorial Trust, Mahalaxmi. AURED’s facilities include habilitation to children with hearing impairment through the auditory approach; early intervention; audiological management; Visual Reinforced Audiometry; hearing aid bank, hearing aid trials and selection; loan facility for cochlear implants; mobile testing unit; audiograms and mapping for cochlear implant recipients and hearing aid users; free medical advice and / or attention from their panel of honorary doctors; distance learning via e-mail; access to their library; teaching aids and books; and monitoring of therapy sessions via CCTV system to name a few. The organization also conducts workshops for professionals; develops special teaching aids; and serves as a resource centre for graduate and post graduate students of the Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped.
Animal Assisted Therapy for people with learning disabilities and behavioural problems:
Read all about Animal Angels Foundation, an organisation that uses animals to help people. Through the Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) dogs and even fish are used to bring about positive changes in people. Rohini Fernandes founder of the Animal Angels Foundation who is a clinical psychologist and certified AAT practitioner has immense knowledge of dogs and their behaviours. Rohini along with her talented team have helped children with learning disabilities and behavioural problems for the last eight years.