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OP-ED: Children with disabilities can develop in amazing ways

  • Published at 03:28 am March 24th, 2021
Down Syndrome
Children with down syndrome at the office of the Down Syndrome society of Bangladesh at Banasree, Dhaka Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

All children deserve to be loved, equally

On March 21, a number of organizations in Bangladesh observed Down Syndrome Day, and on that day I remembered my own elder brother. My earliest childhood memory is of my elder brother sitting, it seemed to me, permanently, in a push-chair and sometimes in a wheelchair. 

It was something that as a young child I accepted, not knowing it was unusual. My brother, who passed away in 1999 at the age of 55, had a severe learning disability, Down Syndrome, learned to walk when he was six years old, and was not able to speak. 

I should emphasize, however, that he had a definite character and personality and at the residential home where he lived he was a useful, helpful, and cheerful member of society.

Our elder son, Neil, also has a severe learning disability and, when he was diagnosed as such within a year of being born in New Delhi in 1975, we were told by doctors there, as well as in the UK, that he was unlikely to ever talk and was expected to walk by the age of about five to six years. 

Initially, he was diagnosed as having Down Syndrome, but that was subsequently found to be the wrong diagnosis. My wife and I were obviously depressed and completely at our wits’ ends, but that did not stop us from searching out all possibilities of finding a cure. 

We tried all types of Indian medicine and my wife began to spend a considerable amount of time deep in prayer. This brought her inner peace which helped her deal with the situation in a better way. To encourage Neil to speak, I would sing nursery rhymes and I would sometimes miss out the rhyming word at the end of a line. For example:

Appley Dappley, a little brown mouse,

Went to the cupboard in somebody’s -------

In somebody’s cupboard there was everything nice,

Cake, cheese, jam, biscuits, all charming for -------

Eventually, one day, to our great joy, he filled in the gaps with “house” and “mice.” 

At the same time, we provided every type of stimulus to our son and he began to walk at the age of about two years and now, aged 45, can hold a reasonably good conversation, though he cannot live independently at all. We have always tried to tell our son Neil, and his younger brother Rohin, who is a London-based cardiologist, that there is no part of the English vocabulary that includes the words “I can’t do it.” Neil has become, over the years, a happy, loving member of the family and now of the care home in which he resides, and when he feels in a good mood, he can be extremely helpful to the extent of helping in the kitchen, and preparing the table for a meal. 

If he is not stimulated to be involved in such activities, he will just sit in front of the television and watch the many programs available on British television covering sport.

For someone with a severe learning disability, Neil has always had an incredible memory and a remarkably good sense of direction. Also, because he is on regular medicine because he suffers from epilepsy, whenever another member of the family or his community is ill, it is Neil who will remind that person to take his or her medicine on time.

From these observations, it can be seen that Neil is able to participate fully in life even though he will not ever be able to live independently. He has all the emotions that you or I have, and an enormous sense of humour. He also has the capacity to laugh at himself. Neil’s situation is very different from that which faces the child with a disability in Bangladesh, particularly, if that child lives in the rural areas. 

However, I have made these few comments and observations from my personal experiences with the hope that it might encourage others to feel less lost, helpless, and hopeless when they know their child is handicapped in some way. 

Parents of children with disabilities of all kinds in Bangladesh must never feel ashamed or embarrassed that they have a child with a disability. As parents, you must love all of your children equally and have as much fun with them as possible, even if they cannot see, speak, hear, or understand. 

When our Neil was young, I used to play the fool a lot of the time, so parents in Bangladesh must unwind and become a little bit crazy too. Just getting Neil to laugh was like giving him a good medicine, as he would be happy and he would eat well and complete all his daily activities in time, and this made his parents happy too. So, parents and carers should “let their hair down” and have fun with their children.

Julian Francis has many friends in Bangladesh who have different kinds of severe disabilities. He says that they have immeasurably enriched his life over many years.

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