It may not be easy for you as a parent to come to terms with your child showing signs of special needs, and understandably so. At the same time, if these signs in your child are ignored and not diagnosed on time, the problems may only multiply with growing age. So, for a parent, it is important to acknowledge and address the issue right from an early age.
It is with this mission that KLAY (Kids Learning and You), a prominent day care provider in India, and LLC (London Learning Centre) have come together to cater to children who have special education needs. If a child at the day care centre shows symptoms of any developmental disability, specialists at LLC are approached, who then assess his or her actions followed by due therapy.
“Both KLAY and London Learning Centre believe in early intervention. Our motto together is intervene early, intervene often, intervene effectively because that can change the trajectory of a child’s development,” said Pooja Talwar, Founder and Managing Director, London Learning Centre, an organisation started three years ago to bring international level of expertise in the field of special needs education in India.
Why early intervention
Children as early as six months old are nowadays put in day cares by working parents. Therapy for children with special needs can start as early as five months of age, informed Talwar. But why do experts harp on early intervention? Pooja Goyal, Chief Strategy Officer, KLAY, explained, “All of the research is pointing to the fact that brain development happens at its fastest pace during the first six years of age. If we are able to identify developmental symptoms early and intervene early, then the chances of success for the child, in case they are missing some of the milestones, becomes high. We see ourselves as the trusted parenting partner of the family.”
Talwar herself is a mother of a girl who was diagnosed with hypotonia (state of low muscle tone) when she was five months old. On failing to get appropriate diagnosis in the country, the parents approached specialists in England. Today, her daughter, 17, is studying in a boarding school overseas, and travelling and skiing, with her physical issues having sorted out. And the mother strongly believes that her daughter owes her successful recovery to early intervention.
What is special needs education
Children, who fall within the special needs spectrum, might display signs ranging from issues like feeling troubled by the noise of the fan or certain texture of clothes to major disabilities. And the interventions are made accordingly. “Interventions range from assessment of anything amiss. Or sometimes, the child is actually ahead of his or her learning curve and meeting milestones very early. We want to pick up on that too. The first step is to screen and assess the child, from cognitive skills, speech to physical development. The next step is to find out how to intervene in terms of therapy or counselling (both for the family and child). Then, there will be a range of speech and language therapists and occupational therapists, and specialists for special education needs to help the child,” Goyal elaborated.
Talwar also warned that parents should ensure there is no misdiagnosis of the child’s problems. Like how ADHD is sometimes mistaken for autism or any reading difficulty among toddlers is confused with dyslexia. In case of LLC, for instance, the diagnosis is not based merely on observation. “We do standardised international assessments, where we keep scores. So, we have evidence to back up a diagnosis, not just mere observation. When we actually start the therapy, we set a three-month goal and evaluate improvement over the months,” she added.
Special needs education primarily entails speech and language therapy, occupational therapy (including improving motor skills, visual skills, etc) and that catering to sensory issues.
Signs of early developmental delays
Watch out for these signs:
1. Any loss of skill
2. Lack of response to visual stimuli or sounds
3. Limited eye contact
4. Poor interaction with adults or other children
5. Poor strength in one side of the body
6. Is very floppy or very tense and stiff, affecting physical function.
It is not about labelling a child, but to raise a happy one
While parenting in itself is an endless task, things can be a little more delicate in case of those having children with special needs. As we increasingly move towards nuclear families, taking care of the child’s needs can be difficult when both the parents are working. That’s where day cares come to the rescue, to motivate mothers–in this case those of children with special needs too–to go back to office.
“So, we were initially working with neurotypical children and even if we identified some symptoms, we were not able to act very quickly. The teacher might have noticed signs but did notice how to bring it up in front of the parents. It is a sensitive issue,” Goyal expressed while talking about the collaboration with LLC.
Some parents might be apprehensive about their child being labeled at a very early age, who might have to bear the brunt of social stigma. For parents to understand and address their child’s needs, they need to be sensitised about it first. “The key is extreme sensitivity and training of people who are involved in the process of counselling parents. The teachers have to be trained, in terms of picking up the right signals and thinking it through before bringing up the issue with the parent. We have trained counsellors to manage such conversations and help parents make the journey. Parent education becomes also very critical to ensure what’s best for the child,” she added.
Only proper awareness among parents can urge them to identify symptoms in their child and seek help from special educators and therapists before it is too late. “We had a parent who was looking for a quick fix for her child with autism. The girl came to us at the age of three for about eight months. She was doing very well but the mother wanted us to cure autism. But there is no cure for autism, and we can’t lie to a parent. The child has come back at the age of six-and-a-half now and the amount of progress has significantly slowed down. So, I would tell parents that even if you notice the slightest of symptoms, do not ignore them because there are people who can help you. It is not about labelling your child but to raise a healthy, happy one,” Talwar concluded.