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Navigating Covid-19 for children with special needs

  • Published at 04:28 pm July 19th, 2020
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Before Covid-19 shook the world, Inner Circle was providing services at a state-of-the-art centre in Gulshan-2 as well as at client homes

A study conducted in 2017 by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University’s Institute of Paediatric Neurodisorder and Autism reveals that at least 17 in 10,000 children in Bangladesh are on the autism spectrum. The prevalence may be higher as there are several factors contributing to children being undiagnosed. For instance, the stigma around autism is still strong and the majority of the population lack proper awareness about the disorder.

Helping children with special needs to adjust to the new normal

Inner Circle is a concern of Sajida Foundation that provides therapy services to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and developmental delays. It is the pioneer of Applied Behaviour Analysis – Verbal Behaviour (ABA-VB) Therapy in Bangladesh which is considered to be the gold standard treatment for autism and developmental delays, but its approach is multidisciplinary, integrating Speech and Language Therapy (SLT), Occupational Therapy (OT) along with DIR Floortime approaches and Social Thinking and School Readiness programs. 

It is partnered with international experts from Singapore which has enabled it to reach international standards of service quality. In order to have optimal success it is important to work collaboratively with physicians, parents, teachers and caregivers. In light of this, Inner Circle puts a strong emphasis on empowering parents with resources, training and on-going mentoring. Additionally, the institution also works with schools to create more inclusive classrooms. 

Before Covid-19 shook the world, Inner Circle was providing services at a state-of-the-art centre in Gulshan-2 as well as at client homes. Although services at the centre had to be suspended to prevent the spread of the virus, the institution has been working tirelessly since the countrywide lockdown. To help children fit into the new normal, Inner Circle has introduced online and telephonic services. This has gone a long way to help parents manage their children’s behaviour, maintain acquired skills, and even learn new ones. 

It is continuing home services, adhering to a comprehensive health and safety protocol developed in line with the official World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. It is also providing free consultations through a hotline (+880177777 2215) and hosting regular live sessions on Facebook with various experts in the field. 

What can be done at home

Being stuck at home for an extended period can be exceedingly difficult for any child and more so for those with special needs. Parents and other caregivers can help with the following activities. 

●    Maintain a consistent daily routine 

●    Reinforce good behaviour with rewards 

●    Engage in play every day for a certain time 

●    Continue therapy, even if it is done by parents or caregivers

Taking the service to the next level

Although there are organizations and special education institutions catering to those with ASD, in regards to demand, services are scarce in Bangladesh. Dhaka has the highest concentration of service providers, followed by Chittagong. For the rest of the country there is little to no service availability. There is even greater need for services for adolescents and adults. Moreover, due to the individualized nature of autism therapy, it is challenging to provide these services at prices affordable for all, particularly lower income groups. 

Therefore, to build a more inclusive society, Sajida Foundation along with its partner organizations want to take on this challenge. The Foundation has been extending support to vulnerable urban poor communities in partnership with Citi Foundation since the onset of the pandemic. The organization wants to collaborate with both local and international institutions and explore digital solutions to make specialized services like autism therapy accessible to all. Nurturing a collaborative environment for this industry is going to be critical for maximum impact, while information technology may be the key to reducing costs and scaling it. 

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