By Priya Prasad
“The impact of early intervention can be seen in the physical, social, cognitive and social-emotional development of the child,” says L V Jayashree, director of the Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu (SPASTN). ‘Early Intervention’ is the theme of ‘Munnetra Padhai – Badhte Kadam,’ a campaign funded by the National Trust and run by SPASTN. Running in its fifth year, the aim of this campaign is to provide “equal rights and privileges for persons with disabilities.” A report by the National Institute for the Mentally Handicapped states that efforts to provide early intervention services are far too few and scattered, concentrated only in the urban areas, with hardly any reach in the rural areas. Badhte Kadam is one endeavour to increase this awareness.
“Badhte Kadam is a discoverability campaign which means we discover the potential of people with disabilities where they showcase their talent so that the community at large can see what they can do,” adds Jayashree. The children at SPASTN present their talent via dramas, dances, ramp walks, mimicry and fun games. Besides this, there are many other schemes that come under the umbrella of the National Trust. “Every state has initiated a number of initiatives, so we dovetail the Badhte Kadam campaign as one of the schemes of the Tamil Nadu government,” says Jayashree. She adds that this needs to be communicated to people and to avail of these programs and schemes, persons with disabilities need to have a card indicating their status. Initiatives such as this make persons who are differently abled aware of their rights.
According to Jayashree, creating an environment that is physically accessible to persons with disabilities will bring down psychological barriers as well. “When the physical barriers are broken down, you see more people as part of the social landscape, you won’t even notice them [persons with disabilities] then,” she says.
Jayashree and her team of physiotherapists liaison with public health centres (PHCs) and educate the staff about at risk factors of pregnancies that they should look out for. Early intervention does not start when the child is born, it begins much before, at the prenatal period, when the child is in the womb. In order to determine if a mother is at risk, Jayashree says they look out for a number of ‘red flags’—pregnancy-induced diabetes, increases in blood pressure, whether the mother is on medication. “So when you say early intervention, I will not see it as in silo, I will always see it before and after,” she adds.
Her team of physiotherapists visit certain designated PHCs within the city and semi urban areas where they conduct screenings of potential at risk new born babies, who are lined up in advance by the PHCs. This, Jayashree says, is a good indicator of a partnership between an NGO and government. “They allow us to go into their space which is their domain so they respect our professional expertise,” she says.
She adds that initially, to reach this stage, it required considerable networking and advocacy with different levels of government officials, starting with the director of medical services. She and her team would conduct sensitization sessions on disability at their offices. This has clearly paid dividends—SPASTN is a recognizable name among some PHCs across the city.
Research has shown that the rate of human development is most acute during the early years, hence the need for early intervention for children with developmental delays. The age range for early intervention is between zero and six years, after which development delays are difficult to correct. “Some research has shown that within three years, complete neuronal exuberance takes place from the time of birth to three years. On the other hand, some say that neuronal exuberance takes up to six years to completely evolve, so it’s important to provide the right intervention at the right time,” says Jayashree.
There are various ways in which the benefits of early intervention manifest itself. One would be imitating behaviour which, according to Jayashree, lays the foundation for other behaviours—it helps develop cognitive skills, memory, attention as well as social skills. “When we develop an individualised educational plan we have all the four domains [physical, social, cognitive, emotional] in mind to work towards at the classroom level,” she adds.
Initially, the theme of Badhte Kadam was ‘Issues of Violence and Sexual Harassment of People with Disabilities,’ but the National Trust made a mid-stream correction and changed the theme to ‘Early Intervention.’
“Early intervention is always a green topic, how much ever you do it’s never enough. There are still communities we have not reached. Early intervention will always be relevant. It will never go out of fashion,” concludes Jayashree.