Need for residential sheltered care, for ‘Special Needs’ students | Sunday Observer

Need for residential sheltered care, for ‘Special Needs’ students

Much has been written about those with disabilities (both mental and physical) – and their educational and development needs. Much has been done about special education, in schools, and some schools have “special education” units, where their basic educational needs are addressed eg – to read, write, arithmetics. However, very little attention is paid to their application in real life, as also training in ‘life skills’ – for a meaningful secure life after leaving school. This is a dire need in our land. Our experience – My son (now 41), whose early “milestones” of development was delayed – (eg. Speech), owing to him having Epilepsy, (now happily under control) is one such example. Although basic educational needs were catered for, there was little or no attention paid to developing “life skills”, training to meet the challenges of being usefully occupied, and living an independent life as an adult, after leaving school. As parents we tried our best, but we too needed to have expert advice and guidance. Today, after many years, this need has received little attention, and few avenues available for training those in the category of ‘slow-learner’, in ‘life-skills’ and training for useful occupation – to meet the challenges to be faced after leaving school.

I acted as convenor, to set up the EASL, in 1989, following an article written by me in the Daily News, (together with Prof. Nimal Senanayake, its first President). This has been revived, and is progressing well at present, under the able leadership of Dr. Mrs. Jithangi Wanigasinghe, Consultant Paediatric Neurologist. It is a partnership of doctor/layman, and affiliated to the Intl Bureau of Epilepsy ,Holland.

There are, at present, special education and occupational centres available for those with special needs – to cater to persons after leaving school – but these are day-care institutions. Students are kept usefully occupied – (for half-day, during term time), and during school vacations, parents or carers need to keep them occupied. This is often problematic. Also the individual’s long-term needs remain largely unaddressed. While there are Residential care institutions –( these are largely for those with intractable mental illness, who are looked after in a somewhat ‘regimented’ manner – not suitable for the “slow learner” category )– who need to be given training in ‘life-skills, and trained to be independent.

The purpose of this paper is to highlight the need for residential institutions – where the category of the “slow learner” individual – whether boy or girl, can continue to live, and to work, in a sheltered and secure environment, without too much ‘regimentation’ – while receiving life-skills training, and while being kept usefully occupied. It is suggested that this be a fully integrated place of residence, with a kindly Resident Manager.

Residential ‘mix’ – It is also suggested that residents may include a few Elders and a few University (Medical) students too. The proportion and ‘distribution’ will need to be considered – depending on the space available, funding, management structure, etc ,initial intake of say upto16-20 residents. Work program/land area. - It is proposed that a varied program of work and recreation be arranged for the residents, which can include, agriculture, handicraft, physical training/yoga, music and art etc. Residents can also help in ‘house-keeping activity, as members of a family. It is desirable to have a land area of 25p to 100p – in close proximity to Colombo for the purposes of this project.

Long term Management – In the interest of safeguarding continuity and the long term well being of the project and its residents, it is proposed that this be affiliated to a Church organisation, under its patronage, (or to an established voluntary charity – local or foreign), and have a board of governors, of men and women of integrity and good repute.