MADURAI: Balasubramanian and Vaijayanthi Mala are quite stressed as they juggle their job hunt and round-the-clock care for their 16-year-old son, Sakthivel, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome.
The lockdown has taken a toll on children with intellectual disabilities (ID), parents, teachers and caregivers on the socio-economic and psychological fronts, says Mala.
For children with ID, social distancing only serves to separate their loved ones from them. "Having been locked inside the house for months, my son has become adamant, agitated and anxious. When he sees his father, teachers or friends, all he wants to do is to hug them. We could not make him understand the significance of social distancing," she said.
Mala and Balasubramanian lost their jobs in April. "Teachers and relatives have been supporting us with food supplies," Mala said, adding that their job applications are being turned down citing "crippled economy".
With the lockdown continuing for more than four months now, the activities of children have become chaotic. Increased screen time, overeating, disrupted sleep cycle and lack of physical activity have led to obesity in kids. "At school, physical activities and therapies were given for our children. Even after the lockdown, the teachers visited us and ensured whether the children were on point. But with the surge in COVID-19 cases, the visits stopped," said A Lakshmi Priyadarshini, mother of 18-year-old Sakthi Jananesh, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
She said online classes help in keeping her son a bit enthusiastic. The lockdown may have long-term impacts on the health, social behavior and psyche of the children, particularly the hyperactive ones, those with autism, cerebral palsy, multiple disabilities associated with ID and epilepsy, said Special Educator J Isaac.
"Despite years of coaching on fundamental activities, these children have now forgotten the basic skills due to the prolonged lockdown. Some ran away from their houses and were rescued later," he said.
Founding Member and Coordinator of Bethshan Special School, A Jeyapal, told The New Indian Express that children with ID, especially those with Down syndrome, were of high risk of contracting COVID-19 as they could not comfortably use the masks due to a broad facial profile. The disruption in routine could affect their mobility and fine motor activities.
"As the children with special needs require more learning material, we could only give small assignments to engage them regularly. While academics is only a small portion of the curriculum, adapting to social situations is a major learning skill for them. This has been disrupted due to the lockdown and has minimised the scope of online classes," he said.
Considering the modules used in foreign countries, the institutions are working on a similar curriculum for online classes. The challenge lies in formulating a unique syllabus for each child as they are diagnosed with different conditions.
However, the role of government bodies has been very little in supporting the stakeholders, sources alleged.
District Disabled Rehabilitation Officer M Jayaseeli said no particular measure has been taken so far for children with ID. "Special kits containing toys and other materials for children with autism have been distributed. Owing to the lockdown we are unable to permit special schools or therapy centres to reopen," she added.