Gift of a special child | Daily News


Gift of a special child

Anne Sullivan was a remarkable woman best known for being the teacher of Hellen Keller a deaf and blind American author, political activist, and lecturer. Both women are two of the most extraordinary people in history who overcame their handicaps. Their relationship is the perfect example for a teacher and student relationship. A relationship based on love and compassion that transformed the life of a blind and dumb girl empowering her. Daily News recently met up with Lecturer, Guest Speaker and Psychologist in Education, Sierra Kariyawasam on education for special needs children.

A great teacher can influence his or her pupils in such a way that they become pillars of society. “Everyone cannot be a doctor or a lawyer. But children have their own abilities and we need to recognize their capabilities. But unfortunately the school system in Sri Lanka does not possess teachers who can identify special needs children. For some children the present day school system is not suitable at all. Some children are very good at studies, but others have their own different abilities and the schools are not supportive,” said Kariyawasam.

She has written to many schools in order to conduct courses. The subjects being how the brain functions and how these children can study and focus on their capabilities. She also points out the need for the parents to be educated.

“When comparing the systems in the UK and Sri Lanka, here in Sri Lanka we do not have specialized teachers. How do they recognize a child who needs special needs? In Sri Lanka we do not have this facility. If you take Dyslexia, I am dyslexic and I did not have that facility at all. I did not know the techniques and methods I could use. Nobody knew it, until I went to the UK and did my masters. It was then that I found out through one of my lecturers. However with maturity I have found my own techniques,” explained Kariyawasam.

Kariyawasam has spoken to a couple of teachers and they have told her that they do not have this facility. Teachers need to be aware of learning disabilities. Because of a lack of understanding, they are unable to help the learners achieve their potential. Each child is an individual and she added that we need to nurture these students according to their abilities.

“Each child can achieve something. In the UK there are many programmes where the children are given the incentive to perform. They are encouraged to think, organize and plan. Everyone cannot do medicine, engineering and law. We need to address this at a young age. We need to have sessions with children and help them understand what they want to do in life. So that facility is not here in Sri Lanka. Right now schools are just focusing on the O/Ls and A/Ls. These examinations are important, but first and foremost we need to identify the child’s abilities,” pointed out Kariyawasam.

Kariyawasam also stated that there are minor ADHD children, meaning that teachers in Sri Lanka cannot recognize it and identify. Since they do not have this facility, having awareness courses are very important. These disabilities need to be addressed and identified.

“We all may study in different ways, but we need to identify that there are different learners. When it comes to Dyslexia, some people have different abilities. If you take me for example, my brain works really fast and my physical parts are not going accordingly. Some are very slow – the other way around. But most intellectuals in society have been dyslexic, so actually it is not a bad thing really. They are very intelligent and most of them can be very clever at math. Some of their handwriting is awful, organizational skills are lacking and time management is very poor,” added Kariyawasam.

She is very critical of the fact that most


teachers shout at the children. She stressed that you need to try and understand that child. The local examinations are important, but you need to be mindful of the child’s unique capabilities. Otherwise the child becomes stressed out and anxious. Children should not be made fearful about their studies. If you take ADHD children, they cannot sit in one place, their focus level is very low and though they may hate to write, they are very good at practical exercises. You should not shout at the child. It is highly important to observe the child,” pointed out Kariyawasam.

Some children may grow up and improve their mental capacity, but that depends on the brain. They may not like to talk much, they may not like mingling with other people and they will be on their own. Their concentration could be low. Of course these are minor disabilities; the major ones are very visible. Kariyawasam quips saying that when you look at her, could you suspect that she is dyslexic?

“For me it is not a disability at all. It has not hindered my education. I have done four or five degrees. The problem is some parents do not want to accept the fact that their child may have a disability. That is why parents need to be educated. The stigma is also the problem – the way society looks at the child. This is primarily what the parents fear. At international schools to some extent these facilities are provided,” said Kariyawasam.

Along with her compassion is Kariyawasam’s ambition. She wants to open up a nursery and a special needs school. She also aims at providing all facilities. Her curriculum focuses both on books and physical education, in other words the practical aspect as well. She feels that the child needs to have the freedom to think.

“I do Child Development Courses in the UK for parents. I teach them how the brain develops stage by stage. I say let children draw, but not on walls. Give them plenty of books. I feel when it comes to special needs education, the education department needs to take the initiative. The curriculum needs to change. In addition to the main subjects you need to provide practical options. When the child is little, he or she does not know what to do

with his or her life. You need to allow them to try new things. After leaving the nursery the parents need to play an active role in bringing up the child. There needs to be continuity. The job the nursery does needs to be taken over by the parents. That is why educating and making the parents aware is important. The end result is that the child is not confused,” explained Kariyawasam.

Kariyawasam also emphasized on the fact that you must create something relevant to children with special needs. You see, with the right techniques a dyslexic child can cope in a normal mainstream school. It would help if teachers are aware. Sometimes in addition to scolding a child, they might use a severe punishment like caning. When it comes to some children, the child simply cannot focus on paper based exams. However some of them may be good at landscaping and other such fields. They may not be able to be a doctor or engineer but they can thrive in an equally good field.

“We have autistic people who work at restaurants and bars and even in banks. So we need to make use of them. Depending on the severity of the autistic condition the amount of mainstream classroom time the child receives should vary. Some may be assigned to a special needs classroom. The problem is that you cannot keep an autistic child with a normal child. The autistic child may get frustrated when he or she tries to copy the actions of the normal child and fail. Then the stress levels become too high. There is a lot of anger in the autistic child since they cannot do what the other child is doing and they also find it hard to express their feelings,” explained Kariyawasam.

That is why the teachers need to be taught psychology – child development and how the brain works. The teacher should be patient, understanding and know the proper techniques when dealing with children. Because it is not fair for the special needs child. What we must understand is that each individual has their own potential.

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