Challenges facing families with special children
Irrespective of culture, race or geographical location, children are not just the products of a marital relationship but a crucial basis for societal modulation of the family unit. This explains why different cultures have various and potent reactions to issues, such as infertility and birth of children with peculiar challenges.
Beyond the medical explanations for infertility or special children, there are potent socio-cultural and religious issues that are capable of militating against a beneficial approach to effective management options. Special children in this context are those that require more support than other children in order to function optimally.
This condition may have been precipitated by the mishandling of the pregnancy, especially in a situation where damage to the growing brain of the foetus is caused by the consumption of certain drugs; failure to take precaution against possibility of jaundice in certain circumstances; mismanagement of the delivery process, as in prolonged labour; premature draining of the waters that can result in fetal distress and mechanical trauma to the fragile brain of the new born baby through unprofessional handling of the delivery process.
We have many untrained traditional birth attendants and religious maternity centres that are not professionally supervised. This may lead to an increased incidence in the population of children with special needs. There may be other causes traceable to some genetic factors, some inherited metabolic disorders or advanced maternal age.
Also, these children may be born with cognitive defects associated with seizures that can manifest in many ways. As the child grows there may be deficits in the achievement of developmental milestones with associated poor performance in the school, short of that expected for their chronological age.
The overall presentation could be mild, moderate or severe depending on the severity on the functioning of the child.
These children may also have problems with posture and sensations that will require orthopaedic and physiotherapeutic interventions. They often require a multi-disciplinary approach in their management with the ultimate goal of assisting them to maximise the available intellectual resources for their ultimate good. There are some of them that can perform brilliantly well in certain aspects of life when appropriate educational techniques identify such dimensions and assist in developing them.
Drugs, often indicated in a number of them, are professionally administered so that their side effects do not outweigh the beneficial effects especially for children with behavioral challenges that require medication.
However, our society has some explanations and prescribed interventions for these special children, which makes it difficult for their parents to get the best out of them. Within this context, such children are viewed as products of spiritual attacks. Sometimes, it is assumed that their parents may be serving some form of punishment from God for wrongdoing. This explains the hostile attitude of some neighbours to these children and the society at large.
In some instances, the children are seen as spiritual agents of misfortune and some people use them as agents of social crime. As a result of the stigma, some of them are kept away from the public glare without any intelligently coordinated intervention since they are seen as financial and emotional ‘devourers’.
Africans, through our primitive cultures, have very wrong attitudes to these children that make them vulnerable to all manner of abuse. The parents, by extension, are also maligned, especially the mothers, who may be seen as custodians of evil forces that manifest through these children. Several unwholesome religious and cultural interventions include beatings, starving and burning of certain parts of their bodies in the process of exorcism, apart from injuries a number of them sustain through uncontrolled seizure attacks.
When these children exhibit some behavioral problems as a result of poor judgment or antisocial behaviour, they are often treated with grave physical abuse tending towards ostracism while their parents are made to feel guilty for bringing them to the world. Some individuals actually rape such children, use them to commit crimes and take advantage of their deficiencies rather than support them to maximise their available intellectual resources.
This unfavourable position in the society has affected the government and relevant health agencies that should have been supportive in giving these children the best. The care of such children consumes not only enormous financial resources but also a lot of emotional resources, especially on the part of the parents. Policies that can support, protect and encourage professional care of these children should be encouraged. Corporate institutions can rise to this challenge by setting up a highly equipped educational and vocational centres for them in a multi-disciplinary setting.