By Ranee Mohamed – Photos By Lalith Perera
Whether they be three and half, four or five or 17 years of age, children with Autism, Down’s Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy come to this school, carrying their bags and their books and their lunch boxes.
It is perhaps their first chance to feel like the hundreds of little ones in the neighbourhood who can walk, talk and play the way little children do. Their uniforms suggest that they are students of an international school, but many of these students have barely walked around their neighbourhood.
Children with autism, down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy and genetically impaired children, sit in different classrooms. Just like your child or mine, they come in there carrying a bag and a box in which is a carefully packed lunch. But the difference is that many children here don’t know when to eat it, and how. Yet they are at their happiest here, for here, unlike in society, they are not looked at from the corner of people’s eyes. There is no judgement being passed here, no fear nor shudders thanks to people like Kanthi Perera, the principal, who is committed to easing them out into the real world. “We have over 20 children here and each one is different from the other,” said Kanthi Perera who has been associated with the school since its inception.
Established in 1994, the IDE (Individual Development Education) school is for mentally disabled children from age three upwards. It is one of the few organisations in Sri Lanka which provides professional support that can enable these children to achieve any level of independence in dealing with their daily lives. Perera has watched the school move from pillar to post for want of funds. The current location is in Sapumal Pedesa, Dharmapala Mawatha, Rajagiriya. Before that, the school had been situated in Polhengoda, Rajagiriya, Nawala and now it is back again to this very different and newer location. “Each time the landlord wants the premises, we have to leave,” said Principal Kanthi Perera.
“We have over 20 individual lesson plans and each child is assigned to a speech therapist, occupational therapist and clinical psychologist. Every child receives individual attention,” said Perera. “My advice to all parents with special children is to not keep them hidden at home. Please expose them. They can be trained at a younger age,” she added.
“My child is so well looked after that we feel happy and at ease,” said Rohini Rodrigo, a mother who went on to say that even if a child hits at a teacher, the teacher smiles at him.
“There is so much dedication, so much patience and so much effort here,” she added.
Life gives each of us a special reason to be happy about. Happiness has no classification. It is a feeling that warms the heart and one’s very being. As some parents beam with happiness as their children graduate, here are a different group of parents whose hearts sway with over-brimming joy as their child reaches out to them with open arms for the first time in their lives. firstname.lastname@example.org