While schools are witnessing a growing recognition of sports and extra-curricular activities in their regular curriculum, many special educators feel that a lot needs to be done to integrate these activities in the education of children with disability.
“Everybody understands that academic education is important for children with disability, but when it comes to sports they are often pushed to the periphery,” says Srimathi Kaver, a special educator with Vidya Sagar. Using adapted equipment with different grips, coloured balls with different textures, lowered nets, baskets of reduced heights and making parts of the playground disabled-friendly would certainly help, she adds.
Experts say that it is very important to expose children with mental disability to recreational activities and games because they impart life skills. However, Ms. Kaver says that ‘token grants' such as encouraging their participation during sports day or cultural programmes does not make a difference. “Their active and meaningful participation in such activities throughout the year is what is required,” she adds. Training physical education teachers to introduce inclusive games for children, besides encouraging special educators and regular teachers to work together would definitely work, says S. Jayalakshmi, a special educator.
The onus on exposing these children to different activities is more with their families and schools because their mobility to other places is quite restricted, feel many parents of the special children. “Most auditoriums, stadiums and railway stations have very few ramps, or sometimes, none at all, hence it is difficult to take them out,” says Latha Shivakumar, parent of a child with cerebral palsy.
Sensitising other children in the class, the special educators say, is not much of a concern because children learn to be adaptive when exposed to an inclusive environment right from the beginning. The actual challenge, Ms. Kaver says, lies in constantly motivating children with mental disability to participate. Many teachers lose patience because the instructions have to be repeated many times, says Anandhi Chandrasekhar, special educator in Ramana Sunritya Aalaya (RASA). “Since sympathy-driven guidance does not work with them, it takes a lot of efforts from the tutors' side to get them to participate meaningfully,” she adds.
But it is also important that focus is on participation and not performance, says Emily Titus, Principal, C.S.I. Ewarts Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Anna Nagar. While the academic evaluation of such children is done through specially designed question papers and different grading patterns, sports and extra curricular activities help them to engage with others on an equal footing. “Some special children become aggressive or upset, especially during fast-paced games, but it makes them respond well, and since they enjoy it, it works wonders on their confidence levels,” she adds.
Keywords: special schools