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A new way to deal with disabilities

Mandira Nayar

NEW DELHI: Brightly coloured cards with pictures and a text flashed for a fraction of a second has changed four-year-old Gayatri Gupta's life. Diagnosed with Down's syndrome, her disability might prevent her from fully absorbing the barrage of information around her, but a programme based on a neurodevelopment approach designed by the National Association for Child Development (NACD) in Utah gives her a chance at least to try.

"Each parent is trained in detail on how to do the programme with their child. You have to do these exercises that can range from showing flash cards to massaging the palm of the child to increase her sensitivity. Gayatri learnt 10 words in three days with the help of the programme. She can now read 150 words,'' says Shalini Gupta, Gayatri's mother, happily.

Bound at home by the schedules of speech therapists and other professionals, this way of teaching has given Shalini some hope. Instead of dragging a wailing child up and down stairs to make her learn a behavioural pattern, the neurodevelopment approach helps children to improve the depth of their vision and gives the "feet" knowledge of the sense of the stairs, to get her to climb.

Potential

Started over 25 years ago by the internationally recognised educator Robert J. Doman, NACD aims to enhance the potential of children with disabilities across the whole spectrum from attention deficiency disorder (ADD) to dyslexia and autism through a "philosophical education programme" and not medicine.

Training parents to teach their children in a different way, NACD evaluates the children individually and then designs specific programmes for their needs that improve the way children absorb and process information.

While it is based in the US, NACD is using modern technology to connect with parents across the world. It is also planning to start a chapter in Israel and Guatemala by the end of the year.

To show a new way for dealing with old problems, Mr. Doman is here in the Capital at Sitaram Bharatiya Institute to evaluate children with disabilities and recommend the right programme. On the first of his many visits hopefully, Mr. Doman claims that this programme is not limited to only children with disabilities, but "regular" adults too. "The human brain's basic nature is its plasticity. I believe that most people who are failing on the planet are people who don't have the processing skills to do the job properly. The average person can absorb seven items of information in sequence. We are working on a project called "9 plus or minus 2" in which we hope to be able to get adults across the world to raise their innate intelligence,'' he says.

School system

Regularly mailed a huge stack of videocassettes from all across the world with hours of footage of children with learning disabilities, his approach might be the answer that many parents are looking for. With ADD only a label that the school system uses as an excuse, he claims his method helps to fix what is broken.

"I don't think India is any worse off than any other country. School systems all over the world are the same. They don't provide the individual with the opportunity to learn develop the brain,'' he says.

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