Constant inputs vital, Nov 2001

open house
Sutradhar, the treasure house of toys, has been providing a platform where parents, teachers, therapists and specialists in the field of child education can interact with each other and develop some methods and teaching aids, which can be used for the betterment of the children. One such is the Special Child Week held during 5-10 November 2001. The basic aim of this week was to create an awareness of the importance of learning aids in the environment of special needs children.

Speaking on the occasion about teaching aids and language development, Dr Pratibha Karanth, speech-language pathologist, said that children identify and use various sounds and noises that helps them attend to their various needs. It is only later that they start recognising the human face. As the child continues to experiment with sounds, the family members provide inputs by responding to the child. This inspires the child and it gradually begins to absorb language from the environment. But if providing inputs is stopped when the child does not respond, the child begins to withdraw. To prevent this, constant inputs must be provided.

But if there is a breakdown in communication, the child develops language disability. However, the communication disorders must be identified at the earliest and properly treated to prevent such an occurrence.
Dr Pratibha felt that the material available for therapists is next to nothing. Most speech therapists spend a great deal of time developing material. Therapists need to identify the deficit present in the child and then create the real life situation in which language is learnt. Uma Madan, a special educator and counsellor who is a consultant in mental retardation, touched upon the various developmental areas and how learning aids can help children in acquiring skills.

It is important to note the individual needs of children with disability/mental retardation, as there are different aids for the same kind of learning. Special children must be provided with independent living skills or activities of daily living (ADL), which are feeding, dressing and toilet training. Communication is also an important skill that they need to learn so that they are able to communicate when they are in pain or danger.
Dr Sulata Shenoy, a practicing clinical child psychologist spoke at length on play therapy. She emphasised that we should not be apologetic about play with children and that we need to get over our own inhibitions and lack of confidence. When play is interposed between two strenuous activities, it helps the child learn better and also hones mental skills.

A lot of children fantasise through play and we should let them as they find it easy to express their feelings this way, she said, and Pokies emphasised that physiotherapy and cognitive stimulation are very important aspects in the treatment of children with special needs. She pointed out that it is important to interact playfully with the child even if the child does not respond.

Sutradhar is a platform for parents, teachers and manufacturers to exchange ideas. Toys that would be useful for the age group 0-6 years or the early learning group are available here. Parents and therapists alike suggest various kinds of toys that they feel are needed by children and also come up with the suggestion to cater to the special needs children. Hence for the past three years, the store has been catering to the need of special children as well and these toys double up for use by normal children also. With able support from Concern India Foundation, the store embarked on a project to design educational toys for children with special needs. Technical help was sought from various experts in the field. Finally, the store developed six prototypes that were showcased in an exhibition held a couple of months ago. These toys were not available in the markets hitherto. Some of the prototypes developed include the texture cards, where the child can feel the textures of different fabrics for tactile stimulation.
Tripura Kashyap, a movement therapist, suggested that Sutradhar develop movement props, one of which is a Chinese stick. It is a wooden rod to which a long colourful ribbon is attached. They are used to help in coordinating movements and also to increase the spatial ability of physically challenged children. The Indian family puppets have been designed to encourage children to talk about their families and sometimes children come out in the open and some even talk about abuse at home.

Sutradhar recognises the importance of play and creative expression in intellectual growth and hopes to weave colour and texture into educational experiences of children, says Mandira Kumar, its founder. She believes in reintroducing the Indian context in a child’s learning. 'When you ask a child to draw something from a book which gives tips on such issues, it does not appeal to the child, who does not exert his imagination. But when you ask him to draw something like say a circle and give him a bangle, it appeals to the child immediately and is also very Indian.'
Various organisations dealing with special needs children use the store which brings together under one roof innovative, quality learning material which are simple and eco-friendly, as teaching aids. Sutradhar has also brought out Fingertips, a child resource directory which profiles 400 individuals/organisations working with children in Bangalore, particularly the marginalsied and disabled.

Mahalakshmi Venkateswaran
Sunday Herald, November 25, 2001