Anupama looks happy as her mother combs her hair and makes a neat plait before she goes back to listening to music, her favourite activity.

She is all of nineteen years and her parents have adjusted their work schedules to take care of her needs even as she spends the day time at a special school.

She has nothing much to do at home.

At school, she is learning how to make paper bags as part of the programme for the mentally challenged group.

Her parents are happy that she is learning something. But they do not want to talk about a time when she would not require going to school and when they too would not remain as young as they are now.

This is an area that the society and the institutions working in this field have not put much thought on, says S. Ramakrishnan, chief of physiotherapy at Kottayam Medical College, who is involved in a number of charitable institutions as a technical advisor regarding special children.

Jose Palathingal, a professor of nuclear physics in the U.S., who has set up a rehabilitation centre in Kochi to accommodate 10 mentally or physically challenged people, says that the society washes its hands off these people by giving them vocational training that is expected to give them a sense of pride and self-respect.

However, he wonders how many such trained people have taken to jobs?

In Kerala as well as in the U.S. the physically challenged people are paid much less citing their low productivity.

The physically challenged persons are a responsibility of the society and they need to be provided for, he says.

A survey that he conducted in 40 special schools in Kochi revealed that hardly any school has a follow up programme for students who were trained there. Many schools avoided talking about it too, he says.

The need for rehabilitation centres for children out of special schools has been recognised by the Social Welfare Department, says K. K. Mani, joint director, Social Welfare Department, Thiruvananthapuram. Kerala State Orphanage Control Board has taken up the onus to create awareness among the institutions in the field to cater to the need of the society, he says.

As most of the institutions address the cause of children, the demographic shift in the State's population shows that the State needs to take up more activity in the area where virtually no rehabilitation activity is taking place, says Mr. Mani.

More people need to work with those with special needs, he says.

Shyama Rajagopal

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