The South African Federation for Mental Health is encouraged by the fact that Government recognises the need to prioritise the special school sector, especially during Intellectual Disability Awareness month which is commemorated in March. Throughout this coming month SAFMH is advocating for the right to education of children with severe and profound intellectual disabilities, and we hope to see a large portion of the funds allocated to special schools going towards improving access to schools for these children. Children with severe and profound intellectual disabilities require specialised care, and are often not included as part of the education system because it is wrongfully believed that they cannot benefit from any form of education or stimulation.
Schools and facilities that provide specialised care for children with severe and profound intellectual disabilities are scarce, have limited space and also tend to be very expensive. As a result, many parents are unable to find placement for their children, or are unable to afford the fees, and the children are not able to receive any form of education. SAFMH often receives inquiries such as the one below from parents desperate to find placement for their children in special schools:
“My name is N*, I am 24 years old and I do not earn much. I have 2 daughters. One is 5 years old and currently in Grade R, my 2nd born is 2 years and 4 months and is staying at home with my mom at a rented 2 room shack as we do not have our own house. My younger daughter fell ill at the age of 1 year 8 months suffering from cerebral palsy. She stayed in hospital for a month and when she was discharged the doctors told me that she is diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy a lifelong disability and she won’t have a normal childhood. Before she fell ill she had a normal childhood. I need your help finding her the best affordable day care because I have been searching and searching. Yes I came across some wonderful facilities but the problem is money as these facilities are too expensive and I cannot afford them. Please help, I just want a safe, good environment to accommodate my daughter as I am working. Please help.” *name removed to protect privacy.
A child with an intellectual disability still has the right to education appropriate to their developmental level and capabilities, and should not be prevented from opportunities to learn and develop their abilities. It is important that both Government and parents/ caregivers recognise the fact that access to appropriate basic education for these children is essential, and not providing these services within the communities they live in is a violation of their basic human rights. It is also important to recognise that there are many benefits to these children receiving appropriate education and stimulation, as this has the potential to greatly increase their level of functionality.
Fear of stigma and discrimination sometimes leads to families choosing to keep their child with an intellectual disability at home permanently, rather than taking the child to attend a special school or a stimulation center. This can prevent the child from learning important life skills and from developing and reaching their true potential. The younger a child is when they begin to receive appropriate education and care, the better their chances are for future development and independence. It is important that as soon as parents begin to suspect their child might have an intellectual disability, they get the appropriate help and support for themselves and their child.
SAFMH will continue to advocate for the rights of children with severe and profound intellectual disability and will support the efforts made by government to make these much needed services available and accessible.
FOR ENQUIRIES INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Programme Manager: Information & Awareness
SA Federation for Mental Health
011 781 1852