Different Yet Special
Taking notice of the special child
By Kathy M. Villalon
IN this world of varied identities, personalities, physical attributes and views, there are differences even in the capacities and mental state of a person. Some of these individuals, while they were still breathing life in the womb of their mothers, have developed certain conditions that some people will find not normal, or "atypical."
Unfairly labeled as "abnormal" these young individuals are aptly called special children. Special in the sense that they have unique needs, wherein their families need to spend more time and exert more effort and expense in taking care of them compared to other kids.
Some of these children have conditions of autism, hearing impairment, mental retardation, motor, speech, or global delays, cerebral palsy, hyperactivity, among others.
PARENTS, SOCIETY AND THE GOVERNMENT
Mothers never expect that when they give birth, the child would be a special one. Realistically, the circumstances that the condition of the child pose do not come easy. Apart from the extra effort and time one has to spend on the special child, there is the treatment of society that the parents, and even the child has to deal with.
"Some parents would like their child to be part of the community, but the society can be cruel. Some people simply don't know how to respect the needs of special children," according to Mrs. Josephine Caram, incoming president of the Emmanuel Foundation, Inc., president of the Autism Society of the Philippines Iloilo Chapter and mother to a 12-year-old special child.
The society has long-standing negative attitudes or stigma about people who have disabilities. There was even a time when they were kept out of view. It is only in our time that schools, centers and foundations opened up for these kids so that they will also get the education that's due them and at the same time, be rehabilitated so as to alleviate their condition.
"Parents would also like their children to interact with other kids in regular schools. This way, the special child will learn social skills, while the regular classmates would be able to understand them. It is for this reason that we continuously coordinate and appeal to the various regular schools in the city. Fortunately, there are some schools which value the importance of the interaction of their students with our special kids," says Mrs. Caram.
However, not every parent can afford to send their special children to school. "Practically and realistically, for example, parents would just sent the normal kids to school, while the special child stays at home, " she adds. "Parents are at a loss where to go, and how to make sure their special child gets the intervention and education he/she needs, when they do not have enough resources."
Mrs. Caram, a staunt believer and fighter for the rights of the special child has repeatedly lobbied to some respected lawmakers, requesting support and funding for institutions that cater to the needs of these children. She also lobbied that there will be tax exemptions for special children.
SPECIAL INSTITUTIONS AND TRAININGS
One of the institutions that have answered to the needs of the special child is Emmanuel Foundation For Children with Special Needs, Inc.
A pediatrician, Dra. Linda Que and her husband Tommy, upon learning that their child Emmanuel has Down Syndrome realized that they have nowhered to go and knew some parents felt the way way too. This prompted Dra. Que to open a center for the special children in 1992. She named it after her son, thus, Emmanuel Center came to fruit.
Dra. Que's effort was considered as a "labor of love." She kept the center afloat through her clinic's income. Gradually, the center which has a "non-rejection" policy opened its doors to children from different areas in Panay. It was at this time that she realized that she can no longer financially subsidize everything on her own.
"Together with other special parents, they have formed a board, thus creating a foundation in 1998. The foundation, which runs the Emmanuel Center, has opened its doors to different agencies that are very supportive of the institution. Two of them which provide trainings are the Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO) and the UP Camp from Manila," according to Ms. Uzi Araneta-De Leon, Program Director of Emmanuel Foundation, Inc. "We also have volunteer consultants from Manila who regularly check our programs."
"Emmanuel's thrust is to incorporate SPED and intervention. So far, we have professionalized our ranks. We have a licensed occupational therapist (OT) and a physical therapist (PT) who guide the children in a one-on-one class session," Ms. De Leon added.
"We have students as young as three months, with the maximum age of 10 years. For example, we let the babies go through neuro-development training, by teaching them skills. Soon, we will implement TEACCH or the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication of Handicapped Children."
"We emphasize early intervention, as well as the incorporation of both academic and social skills courses for the kids. It stars with the children undergoing sensory integration, physical exercises, and speech and language development. Starting this summer, we will offer sports and arts. Their physical well-being is closely monitored by Dra. Que who is our case manager."
"Unlike the regular trade transitions in regular schools, our center will implement the vertical level of learning in the classroom (there will be 5 students per teacher in a group session). The idea here is that the younger ones will learn from the older ones, and vice versa. Also, only though groups can the children learn to socially interact. For example, a hyperactive child will learn from the calmer one, and vice versa. They will try to model to each other. Teachers also handle the children in a one-on-one basis, depending on their unique needs. Learning and rehab intervention is effectively taught this way."
"We have found that these special children follow on either academic or vocational track. The ones who are academically inclined, once they outgrow the center, can go to some regular schools. However, those who follow the vocational track have nowhere to go. We have to find schools or institutions that can accept them. These vocational schools/institutions can be a great help in providing the children ample skills to be in certain occupations someday," according to Ms. De Leon.
Emmanuel also offers a home study program for children who live as far as Antique.
SUPPORT FOR EVERY SPECIAL CHILD
Some would think that Emmanuel Foundation is a center for the children of the elite. The truth is, they also extend their services to special children from indigent families, as the institution has a no-rejection policy. "These children are equally deserving of good quality services as the regular paying children are," according to its president Daniel Justiniani, Jr.
However, with the continued need to upgrade training, maintain competitiveness of teachers as well as subsidize other expenses for running the foundation, the special parents believe that it is time to seek the support of concerned citizens.
It is for this reason that Emmanuel Foundation launched its "Sponsor a Child" campaign. Concerned citizens are invited to be part of this campaign by donating any amount that will go a long way in helping provide the necessary program for addressing each child's special needs.
"We are not asking for a dole out," according to Mrs. Josephine Caram. "That is the reason why we are not asking for a full sponsorship of a child because we still believe in parent empowerment, that they have responsibilities of working hard to provide a god education for their children," she added.
Another fund raising activity, which the foundation has thought of, is the "Swing for an Angel." This is a golf tournament that is hosted by the Iloilo Golf and Country Club Ladies' Chapter on April 21, 2001.
Through fund raising activities such as these, hopefully, the foundation will be able to continuously extend the high quality training and intervention it is known for. "One's generosity may not be returned in profit, but seeing more special needs children functioning as regular members of our society will be gratification enough," says Mr. Daniel Justiniani, Jr.
(For those interested to take part in the Sponsor A Child campaign, donation/pledge forms are available at the Emmanuel Foundation for Children with special Needs, Inc. at TOC Bldg., Quezon Street, Iloilo City. For more inquiries, please call +63 33 3363652.
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