18 months ago we visited a school with over 100 children with disabilities, providing basic medical consultations on some very complicated kids.
We returned last week with an energetic pediatric OT in tow, who was the star of the show for 3 days while she gave presentations to teachers and parents as well as answering questions for up to 4 hours nonstop on the last day.
It reminded me again of the desperate plight of children here with any kind of health condition, but especially those involving physical or mental disability.
These kids are at such high risk of abandonment, as evidenced by the “baby hatches” which experienced skyrocketing numbers of new arrivals, all with disabilities, as those sites opened up in various cities around China.
The way I see it, getting involved with children still living in the community, albeit marginalized, and somehow supporting them and their families is a form of orphan prevention work.
Very little, if any, reliable information is available about health conditions like prematurity, cerebral palsy, autism, Downs’ syndrome, etc, and parents have no clue that they can often make a difference in their child’s ability to move, communicate and be a active part of the family.
Physical and occupational therapy are only available in limited quantities and often based on the one-size-fits-all approach.
These kids cannot enroll in a regular school.
There might be some kind of laws in place that say otherwise, but the reality is that the typical elementary classroom has 45-50 children, taught a uniform curriculum with no adaptations available for those who need educational interventions, with the prime objective being the college entrance exam score.
There are special education schools in some places, but there are distinct criteria for who might qualify to attend such a school, and it is only for a few elementary school years.
The result is an estimated 5 million children growing up with a physical or developmental disability of some kind, with more than half to two-thirds having limited or no access to education, therapy, assistive devices and more.
The hunt for a diagnosis and believing false claims to cure chronic problems drive many families into poverty, if they were not already poor previously.
This all points toward the very multifactorial issues surrounding orphans and abandonment of children in China.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I was so excited about what is happening at this school.
Children are coming from other provinces to get some basic therapy.
Parents are finding out that their preemie baby with mild cerebral palsy of the legs will indeed, most likely walk before going to school.
They are learning, slowly, how to communicate more effectively with their language impaired child.
The leaders and teachers are the heroes here.
We are hopefully returning in a couple months with another therapist bringing gifts!