Grand Sports Carnival for People With Down Syndrome Raises Community Awareness
Are you smart enough to recognise a hero when you see one? Throughout history people have waged brutal wars, built edifices of great magnitude, sacrificed lives over ideologies, and converted pleasurable activities into mind numbing rat races, with the sole intention of projecting themselves as heroes. However amidst man's hazy pursuit, the real heroes have been smiling and patiently waiting to shout out and rejoice on occasions such as the Grand Sports Carnival for Intellectually Disabled from all over the state of Tamil Nadu, celebrated on 26th and 27th September 2010 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
Fountain of Joy
During the Joy of Giving Week celebrations, the emphasis was on encouraging as many special children as possible to participate in the events organised for the intellectually challenged. The ground warmed up to fun and rollicking beginning with aerobics and other sports events on different tracks. By the time the sun was at its peak, the children dancing to their favourite numbers. The irresistible merriment understandably had organisers joining the children in no time.
Now that we know
A concise seminar on the awareness required for caretakers by Dr. Priya Chandrasekhar, Paediatrician, and Ms. M.V. Patricia, Occupation Therapist, attracted parents, nuns, teachers and volunteers who exhibited deep concern towards children and people with Down Syndrome and other disorders.. Some of the concerns raised were towards curative possibilities, engaging the differently abled in marital unions, meeting academic and physical demands, psychological health and so on. Dr. Chandrasekhar, clarified that there is 'no cure' for Down Syndrome, because it is not a disease, so it is best not to be misled by false hopes given by allopathy, homeopathy or any 'magic'. She also strongly advised against marriages for people with Down Syndrome, since they do not have the cognizance to discern the duties and marital responsibilities. The highlight of the seminar for the caretakers included sensitivity to the needs of the intellectually challenged and patience towards them. The focus must be on making intellectually challenged people independent, allowing them to choose what they want to do and what they like doing. Some of the activities include encouraging independence through training them to groom themselves, keep them occupied with activities that will boost their self-respect and morale.
Tuning Up to Special Skills
The focus of caretakers should be in keeping children happy. . Dr. Chandrasekhar stressed the need for patience in caretakers and explained how exhibiting anger and resorting to verbal abuse would mar the self-esteem of intellectually challenged persons, because they too have similar desires like those of the caretakers. The audience also learnt that since life span is increasing for persons with Down syndrome, it could lead to a degeneration of social skills. The extension of longevity must also be accompanied by quality of life, which is possible only if differently abled people are fruitfully engaged. Most people with Down Syndrome have to be provided with periodical checks on eye care given the chances of developing cataract. In case of girls and women, gynaecological attention is imperative due to development of ovarian cancer.
Sex-education for Down Syndrome
People with Down Syndrome and other intellectual challenges, are vulnerable to sexual abuse, hence talking to them and making them understand inappropriate physical contact is the responsibility of every caretaker. Popular methods suggested to impart sex education were verbal explanation or role plays or pictorial representations. Mrs. Annapoorna Jayaram, founder of Sri Prashanthi Academy, in Coimbatore, advocated avoidance of physical contact, be it shaking hands or hugging strangers and as an alternate promoted 'namasate' or 'vanakkam' by way of greeting. Caretakers, especially parents, should be discouraged to establish too many relationships apart from close relatives such as father and mother. Should someone force any physical contact on intellectually challenged people, they can be trained to slap as a form of self-defence. A caretaker in the crowd threw light on the fact that boys are victims to sexual abuse as much as girls are.
Depression symptoms in Down Syndrome Children
Implications of not letting Down Syndrome people and other Intellectually Challenged people assert their independence could lead to repression and depression. The signs are usually tantrums, irregular behavioural patterns such as crying or laughing for no reason. Another major sign is talking to oneself, Dr. Priya Chandrasekhar firmly stated that a child will need immediate psychological attention. It is normal for children to have imaginary friends and it's the same with intellectually challenged children too, but when there is excessive self-talk or crying or laughing with no external influence, then these are sure signs of depression.
Education for the Intellectually Challenged
Ms. Remya Jayaram, Principal of Sri Prashanthi Academy, Coimbatore, shared in depth details on the education and training on self-reliance for people with special needs. She asserts the need and the implementation of training parents through parental counselling, care and development methods. A caretaker's contribution to what is advisable for the well being and the holistic development of an intellectually challenged child is initiated through parent-teacher conferences. Ms. Jayaram concurs parental involvement is crucial because children spend 25 percent of their time in school and the rest 75 percent with their parents. Periodical detailed assessments are performed to track the progress of a child and some even make it to regular schools when they fulfil a certain adaptable criteria. On the flip side, not many schools are open to the idea of inclusive education, meaning taking in intellectually challenged children, for reasons such as lack of attention in a room of 25 to 50 children. It has taken almost twelve years for Chennai schools to be open to inclusive education. Some of the challenges faced by the institute catering to differently abled children include lack of funds where the minimum fees, sponsors and donations do not suffice to pay for the services. For example, Sri Prashanthi Academy is supported by the Prashanthi Educational and Charitable Trust. Yet, the academy with resilience manages to put into action every possible word recommended for the well being of intellectually challenged children. Despite the financial challenges, teachers are recruited, trained by consultants through periodical three day workshops. Ms. Jayaram is proud when saying that most children are occupied with academics, proficient in self-help skills/ Activities of Daily Living (ADL) that facilitate independence. Given the scope of the number of Intellectually Challenged people who have made it as accountants and teachers, Ms. Jayaram, who has earned a Masters degree in Early Childhood Unified (Inclusive) Education, from the University of Kansas, insists the primary focus be on awareness, to believe in the capabilities of the child, followed up by inclusive education, which would make it easier for Intellectually Challenged children to integrate in a community.
Ms. Archana Jayaram, Assistant Teacher at Sri Prashanthi Academy, is a person with Down Syndrome, who assists her students with prayers, creates puzzles, teaches yoga and plays music on her keyboard. The multi-lingual educator speaks English, Tamil, Hindi and Malayalam and is blessed with an amazing sense of humour. Ms. Archana Jayaram shared some of her activities such as shopping, working on the computer, assisting with domestic work. She also learns Tamil, Mathematics and Science to further her academic pursuits. And like many out there, she is an ardent fan of super-star Rajnikanth and her favourite actress is Shreya.
The overall feel of the Grand Sports Carnival served the purpose at many levels. Dr. Rekha Ramachandran of Mathru Mandir greeted with 'it's a joyous event for all of us' and she couldn't have been more right. The programme was handled with utmost sensibility where the free eye camp or the seminar for caretakers did not disturb the fun children were having. Perhaps it was the happiest and most mirthful day in the history of Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium with the spectators and participants catching on the highly infectious fun and laughter of Down syndrome persons.