HYDERABAD: Schools are closed and will remain so until what seems like an eternity. It has been a harrowing time for parents as children with special needs are bound to get more restless in the absence of regular therapy sessions. Many kids with disabilities find comfort in the routine, and if that is jeopardised they tend to behave differently, much to the dismay of parents and guardians.
Seven-year-old Aarna suffers from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and has started exhibiting attention-seeking behaviour for the past one month. Ten-year-old Madhav (name changed), attends school but is non-verbal. He used to learn from a special education teacher. His moods worsened after his school was shut in March due to the outbreak of Coronavirus.
Eight-year-old Viren, who was a regular for a one-to-one session at a therapy clinic, started showing severe behavioural changes. Like many other elders, his parents’ explored options and much to their delight, they came across online speech therapy. Welcome to the new system that is gradually gaining recognition and acceptance for its proven benefits for special children. The online classes are coming as a boon during these turbulent times. Therapists specially trained for online therapy make the sessions interesting and keep the child engaged.
The importance of online sessions for special children has been put across appropriately by experts in the field. An important factor, they caution, is in involving parents and guardians into the system. According to Meeta Grovor, who has served at Saandeepani, a centre for healing and curative education, for over seven years: “Since screen-time is neither possible nor advised for children, we are conducting online bi-weekly sessions for parents, who, in turn, can help continue the therapy.
Teachers meet mothers on a bi-weekly basis and put in place a workable daily routine. Once a week, we work with all the parents together and this interaction enables them to share their day-to-day challenges and how they are facing the ordeal. As most children on the autism spectrum respond well to music, we invite a therapist to come online at regular intervals.” Taking it a step further is Nitin Bindlish, CEO of Mom’s Belief, which is a mental health care provider for adults and children.
He points out that as soon as the lockdown came into force in March, Mom’s Belief encouraged parents of kids with special needs, who were registered with their centres, to switch to an online therapy model. Mom’s Belief launched a teletherapy-based model as a part of the Comprehensive Online Home Program, which aims to empower parents of special needs children. For a personalised touch, they customise an Individualised Education Plan (IEP) for every child.
Elaborating the other intricacies, Dr Garima Vegivada, clinical director, Speech Language Pathology, Hear ‘N’ Say Clinic, Secunderabad, says, “Special children have unique needs and deserve greater personal attention, continuous engagement and more consistent care. Tele-rehabilitation has widely been practised abroad but is not popular in India because of poor tele-connectivity.
However, with Covid-19, we have seamlessly moved online and tele-rehabilitation has become a real possibility.” Parents are relieved with the system that is evolving. Aarna’s mother, Sudha, says the team at Saandeepani started online classes for parents a few weeks back. Based on the kid’s needs, they plan activities such as sensory, and oral-motor besides training the parents through Eurythmy sessions.
Shourya, 10, was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. He attended school at Saandeepani, which closed in March. “We were not prepared for it. However, a ray of hope has come in the form of these online sessions for parents,” explains Shourya’s mother Praveena.
Meeta Grovor lists must-do activities for children
- Regular bedtime and meal times
- A daily rhythm thought of a day in advance but being flexible if needed
- Involve the children in age-appropriate household chores like washing dishes, watering plants, folding clothes
- Physical activity like walking or exercise bike
- Relaxing activities like music and painting
- Healthy interaction with family members other than the primary care giver
- Most importantly, some ME time for the primary care giver
- Reach out to parents of other children with special needs for ideas and support
— Tamanna S Mehdi firstname.lastname@example.org @tamannamehdi