Children with special needs have usually been perceived as those born with abnormalities. But Paweeporn Srivisart thinks otherwise.
Special educator Paweeporn Srivisart with normal children at Ban Kid’s Fun nursery school.
''When it comes to children with special needs, people in society should be more open-minded. Don't look at them as abnormal. Every human being can be taught and developed,'' commented Paweeporn, 27, special educator and founder of Ban Kid's Fun, a child-centred nursery.
Paweeporn is also working individually with parents and families of children with special needs. Her expertise is in early intervention, early childhood education, as well as educational and developmental programmes for children with various types of disabilities.
In educating children with special needs, the most important thing teachers need to have is a comprehensive list of a child's physical and mental illnesses, Paweeporn explained. So when it's time for a child's first school enrolment, it is crucial that parents bring a very detailed medical profile, or if possible a letter from a doctor, to the school so that teachers can be aware of certain things they have to take into account.
''In taking care of children with special needs, it is vital that we teachers know everything about their health. We need to know what food they are allergic to, whether they have any sensory problems or how they adjust socially,'' noted Paweeporn.
Medically speaking, there are many types of mental disabilities among children, be they familiar names like autism, cerebral palsy and Down's syndrome or less familiar terms like Asperger's syndrome, which basically affects a child's social skill development, resulting in social awkwardness and abnormal physical movements or gestures; and dyslexia, a reading disorder associated with impairment of the ability to interpret spatial relationships or to integrate auditory and visual information.
But in reality, many times it is hard to clearly categorise children's disorders and we cannot expect symptoms to appear all the same. Each disease has its own spectrum, Paweeporn said, and the best tool to handle each child properly is careful observation.
''Throughout a child's physical, mental and emotional growth and development, parents should notice and see whether the child grows up appropriately or whether its physical and mental state seems to deteriorate. It's almost impossible to say exactly at which age the abnormal condition will develop because it's down to the characteristics of each syndrome.
''If you take your child to visit a paediatrician regularly, you will be given a child development checklist, which can give you a rough idea regarding what changes to expect in each different age. Be suspicious if your child develops abnormal conditions such as crying too much or not crying at all, having no response to speech, not looking at the face and eyes of the person talking to him, developing no interest in other people, always doing or saying the same thing repeatedly and so on,'' explained the educator.
Yet the fact that children suffer developmental difficulties does not signify they cannot develop at all and thus adults should encourage a chance for them to be educated rather than slaughtering their educational opportunities.
''When it comes to children with special needs, their development might be slow but at some point they will be able to catch up with their peers. But for kids suffering from certain diseases such as Down's syndrome, parents, as well as teachers should consult and closely collaborate with the children's doctors, as Down's syndrome patients can experience a lot of complications.''
But for autistic children, Paweeporn encourages parents to take them to study with other normal children in schools where children with special needs are allowed to study in normal classes so as to develop their social skills.
Many autistic children are unfortunately kept at home without professional support and this, according to Paweeporn, can worsen their growth and development.
Teachers at Ban Kid’s Fun nursery only attend to normal kids, currently. However, consultation regarding children with special needs is also welcome on a case-by-case basis.
''If autistic children stay home all the time, they will never know what their friends are doing, how other people are living. And they will not have any motivation to improve themselves.''
Bringing children with special needs out to school is also good for parents, she added. Instead of locking them up at home and feeling miserable about their sick children, parents can meet other like-minded parents and they can share their experiences regarding their little ones.
Caring for children with special needs apparently consumes a lot of energy and, of course, money. Many times families become exhausted and discouraged as a result. At this point, emotional support can be as valuable as gold and as many support groups as possible should consequently be established so as to offer parents of children with special needs not only encouragement but also pieces of useful advice as to what they should do with their children.
''We must admit that when we feel like life is trapped on a dead-end street, many times we feel good to know that there are other people out there who have similar experiences. They feel sad and cannot find a way out as well as we do. So support groups for parents of children with special needs will help them cope with their sorrow and make them feel they are not alone,'' the teacher commented.
At the moment, Paweeporn creates educational and developmental plans for autistic children who spend time at her nursery only in the evening. Such courses are customised according to a child's and parents' needs. She also has a plan to set up a half-day class on Saturday especially for children with special needs so that they can come to play with other children and develop socially. The plan is still in the pipeline. What she still needs for the project to shape up is adequate personnel and facilities.
Unfortunately, in Thailand there are very few organisations supporting education for children with special needs. However, Paweeporn is of the opinion that what could most contribute to the education of these children is not schools, special projects or a helping hand from any section of society in particular. Rather it is for society as a whole to have a better understanding about these children, to welcome them as part of society and offer them the right to be educated just like every other student.
''People in society consider this as a small issue because they don't see the truth. Most parents of kids with special needs prefer to keep their children at home because there are so many reasons for them to be worried when bringing their children outside. When parents bring their kids to a shopping mall, for instance, people stare at them as if they are monsters. A lot of schools shut the door on children with special needs or even those with mild learning disabilities. In fact these academic institutions can be of great help.
''So the truth is there are a lot more children with special needs out there than we imagine. And these children should have the right to a proper education,'' Paweeporn concluded.