The All India Occupational Therapists’ Association celebrates its 60th anniversary next week but those in the profession are disgruntled.

For a long time now, occupational therapists say, their services have remained unrecognised by the State government.

Occupational therapists work with the orthopaedically-handicapped, those with neurological and psychiatric problems and with children. Yet, the State does not appoint therapists in its hospitals. As a department, occupational therapy has existed in government hospitals but neglect has resulted in its closure. This is especially traumatic for poor families that have children with special needs.

“Many of us have our own private practices but the poor cannot afford the facility as it is very expensive,” says Joseph Sunny, organising secretary of the anniversary celebrations.

An order instructing hospitals to appoint occupational therapists was issued by the health and family welfare department 11 years ago. But it remains on paper.

Even the institute for rehabilitation medicine in K.K. Nagar has not followed the order. It is yet to find a replacement for the post that fell vacant after the retirement of the last therapist. A senior official at the hospital says a letter has been sent to the officials concerned.

The city has several special schools but there is just one post for a therapist. These schools, however, make do with special educators.

“There have been no surveys on how many children need help to overcome problems like learning difficulties, ADHD, autism or sensory processing disorders. Such children need the services of occupational therapists. We get patients from other cities and towns. Patients would benefit if there were therapists closer home,” says Mr. Joseph.

Paediatric consultant Anuradha Srinivasan uses the services of a therapist in the child development clinic at Mehta’s Hospital to help children with ‘a range of conditions including learning difficulties, eye-hand coordination, speech delay and sensory processing disorders.’

Therapists may also be called in to work with neonates, especially those born pre-term. “It will be more meaningful if an occupational therapist is around,” she says.

According to Suresh Devaraj, dean of SRM College of Occupational Therapy, the only college in the city offering the course, less than a dozen ‘inclusive schools’ in the private sector in Chennai have therapists to provide support.

While none of the government medical colleges offer the course, only three private institutions in the State admit students to such courses every year.

SRM University admits just 15 students now whereas the first batch had around 45 students, says V. Vanjinathan who runs Samvardhana, an organisation for children with learning difficulties.

“We want to work in the State and reach out to all children. Under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, inclusive education has been mandated but unless schools have an occupational therapist, it is going to be a long haul,” Mr. Joseph says.

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