A vocational school for Down Syndrome kids
By Dina Zaman
KUALA LUMPUR, March 18 — Can children with Down Syndrome learn? You’ll be surprised at how many people — including well-meaning supporters of the Down Syndrome Association of Malaysia — think they can’t.
The association wants to build a vocational school for these children so they can be equipped to earn an income as well as build up their confidence and be more socialised.
There is much scepticism about whether such a school is viable. “These children are mentally handicapped and have no future. Why waste time and effort?”
The association disagrees and believes they are teachable. They are neither slow learners nor autistic, something which even teachers and caregivers fail to grasp.
While the association has very supportive donors, public support is what it needs. “It can be disheartening. Many fail to realise this affects their families too, which is why we need to create more awareness about Down Syndrome, and prove to them that these children can contribute to society,” a spokesman for the association said.
For parents of children with Down Syndrome, there are day-care centres where the children can go for a few hours every day. The association has a centre in Linkungan U-Thant, and expatriate and Malaysian children attend classes here. They range in ages from babies to teens.
At the association, an Early Intervention Programme (EIP) is conducted to teach infants how to strengthen muscle tone; they receive massage therapy and learn how to walk. Motor skills and self-regulation are taught for the older children, and a speech therapist comes over to teach the children how to articulate. Social etiquette is taught as well.
While the association applauds the government support Down Syndrome children have received, more can be done, especially when the children enter primary schools. There are no special schools right now for Down’s Syndrome children, and very few parents can afford to send their children to private schools.
These children are then lumped in with other children of special needs, such as the slow learners, autistic students in one class. Whatever skills they learned at Down Syndrome centres are unlearned as the classes they are in now fail to take into account their learning capabilities. Instead, they regress.
“Children with Down Syndrome do not have a learning disability. It is about teaching disability. Parents and teachers need to learn how to manage and educate these children. When they do, they will find that their children embrace learning and are capable of leading independent lives.
“And these children love socialising with children who do not have Down Syndrome. They may not recognise that other children do not have similar afflictions; these kids are loving, and enjoy the company of people. Hence putting them all in one classroom with other children who truly do have learning disabilities is just not right.”
By integrating them into society, these children will mature’ albeit at their own time. The vocational school plans to offer more than just EIP: children will learn to cook and bake, make handicraft, gardening, attend religious/moral classes.
World Down Syndrome Day is on March 21, 2010. The Down Syndrome Association Malaysia will hold a launch on March 20, 2010 at the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park from 8am.
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