Children with special needs
By Mbali Dhlamini
When a child is born, one of the first things a new mother does is a thorough inspection of their new gem. You count his ten little fingers, his ten little toes; give him a whirl and a twirl just to confirm that everything is in the right place.
I can attest to this feeling. When my son was born, it was the happiest day of my life. A good looking little man was placed in my arms and I instantly fell in love. Just a few minutes later the doctors whisked him away over fears that there was something seriously wrong with him. My little man had sustained bruises to his head and there were fears that he was bleeding internally. The next five days were difficult to handle. He remained in ICU while doctors monitored him. Finally on the sixth day I got some good news, he was healthy enough for us to go home.
This week I was reminded of my scary start to parenthood when I had a conversation with a very inspirational woman. One of our listeners gave me a call to share a very sad story that was testing her strength as a mother. She is a parent to a child with special needs who had fallen victim to a bullying incident at his school. This listener wanted help in getting the justice that she felt her son was being denied.
We went through the journey together of making sure that this deed did not go unpunished.
When a solution was found and her child was taken out of the school; I decided to converse with her on a more personal level. This is a woman whose main objective in life is to ensure that her child is given the best childhood regardless of his special needs. She spends most of her day working to make enough money to ensure that her son’s life is made as comfortable as possible.
What I learnt from this conversation is that at the end of the day we all just want what is best for our children.
I managed to ask what hopes and dreams she has for the child whom she fell in love with when she first laid her eyes on him.
Her response was one that is not different nor far from one that you would get from any parent.
Her dreams include a quality education and the hopes of a solid family structure and future.
This brought my attention to a bigger issue being faced by the South African education system. There are just not enough schools which cater for children with special needs in the country. Most parents need to travel far in order to place their children in schools that will be able to accommodate their various disabilities.
Earlier this month we marked World Autism day.
Most children with autism get diagnosed around the age of five when they start school.
It is known as a complex developmental disability which is the result of a neurological disorder that has an effect on normal brain function, affecting development of the person’s communication and social interaction skills.
There are over 750 learners with ASD in 16 public schools across the Gauteng Province.
Johannesburg Hospital School and Unica School in Pretoria are the two schools accommodating most learners with ASD in the province.
I feel that this is not enough.
The question that plays in my mind is whether there are even enough trained educators to facilitate the needs of these learners. Most parents still battle with getting a clear diagnosis with some believing that their children will outgrow the warning signs.
One can only imagine the daily challenges that are faced by a parent who isn’t mentally prepared for a child with special needs. As a mother, I know for a fact that you love your child unconditionally regardless of the challenges you face in the journey of parenting them.
I do however feel that we fail our children by not efficiently preparing ourselves for the arrival into the world. I really take my hat off to those women who when faced with these difficult challenges, rise up to the occasion and make the most of the situation.
At the end of the day, all children need to be loved and taken care of.
It is up to us as adults to fight for an environment which will allow our children to flourish, regardless of their physical or mental disabilities