'The behaviour of children with Down Syndrome may be different, but they still have talent and imagination'
Children with Down syndrome also have talent and imagination, and they need the right opportunities to develop their skills and fulfill their potential, experts have said.
According to Down Syndrome International, about 6,000 babies with Down syndrome are born every year. Research by the Down Syndrome Society of Bangladesh (DSSB) has found that there are over 3,500 people with the genetic condition in the country.
People with Down Syndrome often suffer from major mental health issues, and they need supportive employment arrangements for their lives to be made easier, DSSB officials have told Dhaka Tribune.
Influential people often manipulate people with Down syndrome
According to DSSB, some influential people in the country take advantage of people with Down Syndrome by manipulating them. As an example, they discussed the case of 23-year-old Mohammad Jabbar.
Jabbar, who has Down Syndrome, had gained a reputation as a hired goon at Gazaria upazila bazaar in Munshiganj. Influential locals would often manipulate and hire him to fight on their behalf, said Jabbar’s parents
Lack of support and empathy from those around him led him to become more violent and he got into fights with increasing frequency. Sometimes, Jabbar would vandalize a person’s house and get into a fight for as little as Tk10.
DSSB located and diagnosed Jabbar about two years ago.
Luna Razzak, director of education and culture at DSSB, said: “After diagnosing Jabbar’s condition, we spoke to his family without delay. We gave him counselling and brought him to our research centre.”
Jabbar was given self-advocacy training for two years and has been working as a guard at the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia (AMDA) Bangladesh for the past three months.
“People with Down Syndrome do not like to study. We try to arrange work that they like and also teach them at our school for skill development,” Luna Razzak said.
Jabbar told Dhaka Tribune: "I am getting paid now and I feel good while working, I don't have to take money from anyone.”
In Gazaria, 13 people with Down Syndrome have so far received self-advocacy training and are working at AMDA Agro Ltd to produce mustard oil and yogurt
Sardar A Razzak, chairman of DSSB, said: “The behaviour of children with Down Syndrome may be different, but they still have talent and imagination. They can explore their creativity if they are given the right chances.
“Down Syndrome is not a disability nor a disease. It is a genetic difference. We have to ensure that the basic needs of children with Down Syndrome are met, just like for any other child,” he added.
A role model
Samiun Islam is the only person with Down Syndrome to have successfully passed the Higher Secondary Examination in Bangladesh, DSSB said.
One of the reasons behind Sami’s success is the involvement of his parents, who are both teachers. The HSC graduate is now planning to study social sciences so that he can serve the community.
His mother Rahima Islam said: “We have always tried to support his education. We want him to study as much as he can afford to.”
Sami told this correspondent: “I want to learn computer related skills and to work in an office like a regular person.”
Common mental health issues faced by people with Down Syndrome include anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviours, repetitive behaviours, inattentive behaviours, sleep problems, depression, autism spectrum disorders and the progressive loss of cognitive skills. These problems can be further exacerbated if the adult or child has multiple medical problems.
Sardar A Razzak, who is also one of the directors of Japan Bangladesh Friendship Hospital, said: “We have created a doctors’ interest group. From 100 Karyotype tests, we found 10-15 Down Syndrome cases. Yearly, 700-1000 children are born in this hospital and one or two babies are born with down syndrome.”
Skill development the priority
The government runs free schools and therapy centres across Bangladesh for people with Down Syndrome to empower them, said National Autism Development Foundation Managing Director Anisuzzaman.
“We are now emphasizing skills development, so that people with Down Syndrome can get jobs and contribute to society,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
It will take a year to set up training centres in divisional cities, and five years will be needed to set up centres across Bangladesh, added Anisuzzaman.
He further said around 3,500 people with autism had so far received job opportunities via career fairs organized by the foundation.