T.N.’s only institute for children with cognitive disabilities in a dire state

Parents across the State have long articulated the need to have a government-run institute in their district for their children

Updated - June 17, 2024 06:31 pm IST

Published - June 14, 2024 12:54 am IST - Chennai

Established in 1981 with a capacity for 80 children, the Government Institute for Mentally Retarded at Tambaram, caters to the rehabilitation and empowerment of children with cognitive disabilities.

Established in 1981 with a capacity for 80 children, the Government Institute for Mentally Retarded at Tambaram, caters to the rehabilitation and empowerment of children with cognitive disabilities. | Photo Credit: B. Velankanni Raj

The Government Institute for Mentally Retarded (GIMR) in Tambaram, which is the only institute for the children with intellectual disability in the State, is running on two special educators and a handful of caregiving staff for 64 children.

Parents across the State have long articulated the need to have a government-run institute in their district for their children. “In the beginning, my 12-year-old child, who has mild autism used to go to an NGO-run special school, but after they increased the fees I couldn’t afford it any more. Presently, my child goes to a government-aided school and under the Inclusive Education initiative by the School Education Department, he is studying in Class III,” said Jensi, from Madurai.

However, she wonders what would happen to her son after Class VIII. “Where will he go once they cannot pass him? What opportunities await my son? We do not have access to government-run institutes in Madurai like the one in Tambaram,” she added.

While the government does not run any other institute for children with intellectual disabilities, the NGO-run schools are funded by the Welfare of Differently-Abled Persons Department. “To simplify the process of manpower, it was given to the NGOs,” said sources in the department.

State of the Institute

Though there were five educators previously in the institute, three had retired this year leaving just two to run the facility. Established in 1981 with a capacity for 80 children, the institution caters to the rehabilitation and empowerment of children with cognitive disabilities. Today, the institution also has problems of dropouts, inaccessibility and lack of awareness about the existence of such a centre..

According to the 2019 recommendations by the State Commissioner for persons with disabilities, Delhi, the teacher pupil ratio is fixed at 1:8 for children with cerebral palsy. However, the institute has never been able to maintain it. “There has just been a constant shortage of teachers at the institute even though there were five special educators, one of them teaches vocational training,” said an official from the department. The institute is also presently filling the post of a caretaker and warden for the hostel.

“We have put in a request with the Teachers Recruitment Board to fill four special educators posts which will be done by August,” added the official.

Lack of awareness

It wasn’t until two years ago that M. Kavita knew of the GIMR where her seven-year-old child with autism could get help for rehabilitation. “We did not even know such an institution existed in the State or that it was accessible. I used to travel to Kotturpuram to a private organisation to get help for rehabilitation of my child. I see tremendous improvement in my child in the two years that she has been admitted here. She can now sit with her legs crossed,” said this resident of Pallavaram.

The residential institute offers an option for hostel for children aged below 12 years, which has resulted in the dropouts in girl students as they can no longer continue when they attain puberty. “It requires higher maintenance and surveillance which cannot be afforded now,” said sources from the school.

Parents also pointed out that many people opt out of sending their children to the institute as there is no transportation facility. “It is difficult to bring a child with cognitive disability even if it is a short distance to the institute. As transportation facilities are not there, many don’t enrol,” said a parent. However, officials point out that there used to be a van which would ferry the children but was stopped a few years ago due to shortage of staff.

“The institute has been running on available funds,” an official added.

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