For a long while, it was believed that people with DD were incapable of learning.
Commonly known as mental retardation, Developmental Disabilities (DD) is a term used for a pattern of persistently slow learning of basic motor and language skills during childhood and significantly below-normal intellectual ability as an adult. One common criterion for the diagnosis of DD is a tested intelligence quotient of 70 or below and deficits in adaptive functioning.
DD is diagnosed by looking at two main aspects: the ability of a person’s brain to learn, think, solve problems and make sense of the world; and a person’s ability to develop skills that allow for independent living. Some of the common signs that help identify DD in a child are delay in sitting, crawling or walking and delayed speech. As the child grows older DD manifests itself as difficulty in remembering, trouble understanding social rules, trouble seeing the consequences of their action, trouble solving problems, thinking logically and persistence of infantile behaviour.
The causes of DD could be anywhere from genetic conditions like Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Mowat-Wilson Syndrome, or Phenylketonuria to problems during pregnancy such as fetal alcohol syndrome or the mother having rubella. DD can also be caused due to problems at birth — if the baby does not get enough oxygen during birth, or the improper use of forceps which fractures the skull and causes brain damage.
Health problems like the new born developing whooping cough, measles or meningitis can also result in DD, so can iodine deficiency, which affects approximately two billion people worldwide and is known to be the leading preventable cause of DD. Another cause of DD and of deep concern in a country like India is malnutrition. The National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau’s figures for 2006-07 show a deficit of over 500 calories in the intake of 1-3 year olds and 700 calories amongst 3-6 year olds.
For a long while, it was believed that people with DD were incapable of learning and were therefore largely ignored and left to themselves, with little or no social interaction and an un-stimulating environment. Thankfully, today we know better. When responding to people with DD it is necessary to remember that every person is born with some amount of potential and early intervention is most important so as to bring out the full potential of the child. With support and teaching, children with DD can learn to do many things. People with DD learn throughout their lives and can obtain new skills even late in life with help from their families and caregivers.
Even though training children with DD can be quiet a challenge, the government has taken a positive step towards mainstreaming those with DD into the education system, through the launch of the Sarva Shiksha Abhayan. SSA promises inclusive education for all with a zero rejection policy and strives for 100 per cent retention in schools. Even though teachers have much to learn about dealing with children with DD, incorporating a few changes can go a long way in making a child independent and confident.
Teachers need to develop an understanding of DD to facilitate effective intervention and realise that they have the power to make an enormous difference in the student’s life. Teachers need to teach life skills such as daily living, social skills and occupation awareness. Involve students with DD in group activities and get other students to interact with them. Break longer, new tasks into small steps and demonstrate them when necessary. Besides providing immediate feedback, teachers must constantly encourage and praise the child.
An equally invaluable resource to the child is the parents and family. Meeting parents frequently to acquaint them with the child’s progress means that the child can be involving into meaningful activity — both at school and home. In the long run, this removes over dependence on parents and caregiver.
(The writer is a member of DisAbilityFirst, an advocacy group working on issues of disability)
The above article appeared in the Bangalore edition of the Deccan Herald on 16th April 2008 and can also be viewed at http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Apr162008/editpage2008041562848.asp