Parents with mentally challenged children above 14 years face a new challenge now

When Nakul’s (name changed on request) father went to the District Disabled Rehabilitation Office, Madurai, to collect his son’s free bus pass to attend special school, he was not only denied the bus pass but was also advised to take his son out of the school. Nakul suffers from mild retardation and was admitted to one of the special schools in the city two years ago after a harrowing time in a regular school.

“Parents of children who suffer mild or borderline retardation take time to accept,” says psychologist Rani Chakravarthi. These children are often forced to manage with extra tuitions till middle school and then drop out fearing the Board examsWhile parents do not accept the reality, schools fail to identify the problem and children suffer the academic pressures. “After wasting many of years in denial, parents go from one hospital to another, try alternative medicines and turn to religion for a miraculous cure,” Rani adds.

By the time the children seek admission to special schools, they are already into their teens. “The degree of impairment varies and the special school caters to the needs of each child separately,” she adds.

Denying facilities and giving oral orders to special schools not to admit children above 14 years would do more harm to these children. Rani feels they should be allowed to continue in special schools till the age of 18.

In her opinion, special children above 18 years can be admitted to vocational centres only when they are properly assessed by parents, teachers and the school. “When we assess a child, we should not consider the chronological age but the mental age. The student may be 22 years old chronologically but his mental age is less than 15 years,” she says and adds “special schools follow a grade system. Special children should pass various levels including pre-vocational level before getting admitted to a vocational centre, which is beneficial only for mildly retarded children.”

“Vocational centres are helpful only for mild retardation children and not for moderate and severe retardation.”

Anbagam Special School is the only school that has a vocational centre for special children in Madurai. It can accommodate up to 30 to 35 children and on an average they need to be trained for years together. Anbagam School gives training in manufacturing of areca plates, paper bags, binding, printing press, embroidery, painting works and nursery garden.

“How will children of other school get an entry to this school? If the children are forced out of special schools citing their mental age, what will they do?” asks A. Jeyapaul, coordinator, Bethshan Special School.

Mythili Napolean, founder and one of the trustees of Shine Special School says that only vocational training to retarded children makes the child happy and infuses confidence in the parents too.. “But children with moderate and severe retardation levels have to continue at special schools that givetoilet training and walking therapies.”

This order is retrogatory , feels Ravikumar, Principal, Bethshan Special School. He says now parents would have no other choice but to abandon these children at home.

“Without proper guidance and training, these children become vulnerable to anti-social activities,” he adds.

The District Differently Abled Welfare Officer Sakuntala says “as per the government rules, child above 14 years should be admitted to vocational centres and not in the special schools. Students can study in vocational centres till 18 years.” She points out that many school flout the the Government rules like admitting students beyond the licensed capacity and following the shift system.

Similarly, Government prescribes 1:8 teacher student ratio and many schools have students beyond their licensed capacity and follow shift system, which should not be there.

The Government prescribes 1:8 teacher-student ratio and sanctions sanctions monthly rent, feeding and teaching grant for two teachers and a physiotherapist. The Government has also donated land for the construction of special schools.

“There are not so many vocational centres in Madurai but so-called volunteers use these children as under paid labourers. Vocational training should be profitable for the family and not for the special schools,” she notes.

Uniform syllabus and working hours should be prescribed for special schools. Initially, people volunteer to run special schools and soon they monger for grants and donations. As there is no examination and a monitoring system to assess the progress of the students, special schools are comfortably flouting the rules.

Many schools fleece money from parents and many daily wager parents find it difficult to pay the fee and take their children out. Some schools admit only children with mild retardation and learning disorder and later make tall claims of their achievements. But in reality, many children lack toilet training.

In Madurai district there are 11 recognised special schools. Expect CSI School and Home for Mentally Retarded School, Pasumalai, all 10 schools receive salary grant from the Government.