The Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Benola, a cerebral Palsy Initiative, AVM Femi Gbadebo, has called on government and the private sector to establish early intervention centres to take care of intellectually disadvantaged children in Nigeria.
Gbadebo, in an interview with franktalknow.com said that Nigeria is yet to take into cognisance the needs of intellectually disadvantaged children in its educational policy for children with special needs.
According to him, the country has special schools for the visually challenged, hearing impaired and other physical disabilities but government has yet to establish any for children with learning difficulties, cerebral palsy and other mental conditions that can slow down the learning process in children. He explained the few ones available are being run by the private sector. “Support is not existent. It’s like all we see is vision impairment, missing limbs, spinal cord issues, etc.”
To him, it is easier for hearing impaired and physically challenged to learn than for children that are intellectually challenged. “It seems nobody has seen the need to consider these children in government policies and plans. For instance, during the lockdown, nobody thought of people with cerebral palsy or other intellectual disabilities with a view to giving these children palliative,” he said.
He said that intellectually disabled children should be recognised and teachers should be centrally trained with an approved curriculum to manage them. “Anyone could run a programme, but when it is controlled by government, it is more recognised. Not everyone has the temperament to deal with the situation. We don’t need more than a few teachers in any of these school,” he said.
“Government should recognise that there is a problem and the potential in these children is awesome. There are stories of many of them that have displayed rare talents and are world renown. We should pursue serious things, he added.”
Gbadebo, a retired Air Vice Marshal and father of a cerebral palsy son, Olaoluwa, said that taking care of intellectually disadvantaged children is expensive as well as psychologically tasking to parents. He explained that the intervention centres could provide counselling services and assist the children with therapies, equipment, medication and several other things.
To help these children, he said the parents must first be helped. “Many mothers are frustrated, parents are psychologically stressed, and there is need for government’s interventions so that these children could live a better quality life. Government should provide support systems, most of these children need medications.
“Some of them love to crawl, if the home environment is good, there will be less damage to their knees. Government and the private sector should look into funding early intervention, provide counselling services, therapies.”
According to him, “Everybody is rushing to be certified on how to handle special needs children. But there is a difference between children that can learn normally and those who cannot. Some children can cope in class. Joint classes cannot work for every challenged child. Disability differs and you need different teachers for different children. Most people doing disability are riding on passion but passion without knowledge cannot work.
“Early intervention is very important. A child’s brain develops at a rapid rate. All reflexes are part of development. When they can’t move, certain things go wrong. A child that cannot see cannot follow up objects, it slows development in other areas. By the time a child is five years old, the brain is fully formatted. If the parents are still running around, they miss out in the area of early intervention.”
Explaining that some children could be extremely slow in learning, he said that silos could be created for such children where they can learn, adding that when their situation improves, they can now join inclusive classes. To him, every child can learn. “Some just learn differently,” he said, adding that there should be a system in place to help these children to learn at their levels.
“They may not be able to cope with every aspect of learning. Some are good in maths, English or music. The important thing is to discover them early. We waste time in this part of the world and we don’t follow things through. The physically challenged children can be seen but cerebral palsy children get problem getting into school. Using negative language does not help them,” he added.