A decision of the Union government to stop hiring physiotherapists under the Integrated Education for Disabled Children (IEDS) scheme of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has dealt a majority of special children and their parents a cruel blow.
Many of the parents, who hail from economically challenged backgrounds, are left unable to afford private therapy for their children.
The classes were stopped in March when the Union government tweaked the scheme, directing the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) to train the available resource persons, numbering over 1,600, in physiotherapy instead of renting outside help.
But six months down the line, there is zero progress. Children, in whose lives the therapy was once a bright spot, are left in the shadows of their homes.
One such parent, Sudheer Kumar, employed with the Kozhikode city police, would carry his six-year-old daughter, who suffers from multiple disorders, to the nearby Centre for Research and Development of Autistic Children, an urban resource point for the SSA, for her physiotherapy classes.
“Sometime in March, the therapy sessions came to an abrupt stop. The therapist, hired on daily wages, stopped coming. Many of my daughter’s classmates suffer total paralysis. Their families have no means to give them private therapy sessions,” Mr. Kumar said.
“Without regular therapy, these children experience stiff joints and often excruciating pain.
Physiotherapy is an exact medical science, requiring years of field experience. Besides, these children need expert care.
It is not practical on the government’s part to say they will train the existing resource persons and transform them into physiotherapists within a short time,” a resource person said on condition of anonymity.
Kozhikode district alone has 116 resource persons under the scheme.
The government spent Rs.1.9 crore on their salaries in 2011-12.
Official records of the SSA, Kozhikode, show that 70 per cent of the special children registered with it under the IEDC need therapy.
As per a report prepared by the Kozhikode wing in 2011 as part of ‘Shradhalayam,’ an outreach programme to help special children reach schools for training and therapy, 461 children were enrolled in a total of 14 block resource clusters across the district.
Of them, 204 had multiple disorders, 100 suffered from cerebral palsy, another 100 were diagnosed with mental retardation, and 18 were autistic.
The same report gave a personal profile of the children who attend therapy. It said that the parents of 13 children were separated and 45 per cent of the families were economically challenged, largely because continued treatment and medical expenses had severely depleted domestic finances.
The SSA study report showed that 20 per cent of the special children lived in rented houses, 146 of them lived in places with no vehicular access, 36 children did not have electricity in their houses, and a majority did not have disabled-friendly toilets at home.
Only a mere nine percent of the children were reported coming from “tolerably well-off families.”
“Private physiotherapy costs a minimum of Rs.250 a session. There are children who require therapy regularly. Parents are now left with the choice to either do it themselves or watch their children suffer in silence,” N.K. Anil, a parent, said.
But State Programme Officer of the IEDC E. Ahmed Kutty said the SSA was merely acting as per the revised orders of the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development. Shortage of funds allotted was another reason.
“We were spending Rs.60,000 on each block resource cluster. Starting this year, the Ministry has directed us not to be dependent on hired therapists but tap the manpower from within,” he said.