A Special Learning Journey Cut Short

When building a house, it’s critical to lay a strong foundation. The same applies to education, with studies showing that children who attend early learning centers perform better in school than those who do not. In Malawi, a 2003 national survey found that only 18.8 percent of school-age children with disabilities were attending class. More than twice as many of the same age group without disabilities (41.1 percent) attended school.

This was mainly attributed to the lack of a disability-friendly environment.

More parents are now sending their young ones to such special preschools, some as little as two years old. This kind of early intervention is especially critical for children with learning disabilities such as autism.

Most autistic children are diagnosed late in Malawi due to the lack of specialist doctors and caregivers, but also failure by their parents, guardians and teachers to recognize that the child has learning difficulties.

James Botolo* lives in one of the suburbs of Blantyre and has a 10-year-old autistic son named Chikondi*.

“For so long, we never could figure out what was wrong with our son. Of course he didn’t like to play with his siblings at home and times he could talk to himself but we never thought it was anything. But what mainly bothered us was that he never did well in school, so we kept moving him from one private school to another. One day I met someone who alerted me that my son could have a learning problem,” he said.

Autistic children often lack socialization skills, are hyperactive, struggle to pay attention and sometimes react to things by crying or hurting themselves.

Chikondi is now in standard two at the St. Pius X Resource Centre, a school for children with physical and developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, dyslexia, epilepsy, hearing impairment, and blindness.

Currently in Malawi, there are over 40 resource learning centers for children with various disabilities.

Miriam Chimtengo, 41, is a specialist teacher at St. Pius X, where she teaches a class of about 27 students (16 full time).

Chimtengo, who holds a diploma in Special Needs Education, told IPS that there are major gaps in the social support system for the families of children with learning challenges.

Continue reading on Ips Africa

By Charity Chimungu Phiri

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds issued by IPS on the occasion of this year’s World Autism Awareness Day.

Credit picture: A handicapped child arrives with a fellow comrade in his classroom at the Talibou Dabo center in Grand Yoff district in Dakar, Senegal. Seyllou/Getty Images.

[related_post themes="text" id="59616"]