Being an expectant mother is always a special feeling for a woman, having to deal with the preparation stages of buying new clothes, a crib, thinking about the fun that she will have when her child is born and what he or she will be like growing up.
And, while many may go as far into the future as the career path of their unborn child, few ever think of having a child with special needs.
Well, this was the reality Ms. Donna Davidson faced after she gave birth to her daughter 11 years ago. Like most expectant mothers, Ms. Davidson gave little thought to the possibility of raising a child with a disability.
“I learnt that my child was disabled when she was four months old, after we realised that she would not sit up, and so we took her to the doctor. I was not prepared for it, but I also did not consider it to be devastating, because I had conditioned my mind to be hopeful,” she outlines.
With no father in the picture and unemployed, Ms. Davidson knew it would not be easy for her, but she was not alone as she was referred to the Government’s Early Stimulation Programme in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, which is an intervention programme for children with developmental challenges, aged birth to six years old.
“The doctor told us she had cerebral palsy and that was because she was born pre-mature. I was not working and my mother was helping me out while she underwent physiotherapy. After going to therapy for a while, the doctor then referred us to the Early Stimulation Programme and this is where we learnt more about her disability,” she informs JIS News.
The Early Stimulation Programme is administered by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, and Senior Child Development and Assessment Officer, Ms. Kameika Calder, highlights the wide range of services offered to children with disabilities.
“The programme is very comprehensive. When the children come in for the first time, we screen them to see where they are developmentally. The assessment entails five years of development, such as cognitive, which tests how much they understand, in line with their chronological age. We then separate their chronological age from their developmental status and place them accordingly,” she informs.
“Our children are given the best care and we actually take them from their minimal stage to their maximum potential,” Ms. Calder adds.
The most recent feature is the early childhood development centre, commonly called STIMPLUS, which was added in 2007. This is where the children, including Ms. Davidson’s daughter, are placed after being assessed. At the early childhood development centre, children with varying disabilities are placed in a school setting.
Teacher with the Early Stimulation Programme (STIMPLUS), Ms. Donna Davidson, listen to students from her class as they participate in a class activity.
“I am happy that she was able to get into a programme like this, because parents are not pressured to pay exorbitant fees. What we have been asked to do, is just pay a contribution and that was good for me, because economically, I could not afford it. My daughter was also being helped significantly and the teachers really show them love,” she tells JIS News.
Not only did she get her daughter into the institution, but Ms. Davidson was given the opportunity to do what she always wanted to do – teach. This opportunity was granted to her after spending all her days at the school watching her daughter and sometimes helping the teachers with the students.
“I really admire how the teachers work closely and patiently with the children. I would take my daughter down in the mornings and stay there, because I could not afford to go back home and then return to pick her up. One day after staying there and helping around, I was offered a job to teach the children. I got a job because of my daughter,” an elated Ms. Davidson says. She has been working at the institution for three years.
Ms. Davidson says that being in the programme has helped her daughter greatly, because of her interaction with children with the same disabilities as her daughter.
“I have learnt a lot more since I started teaching the children. I am now able to help my daughter more, because I understand how children who have cerebral palsy think. More important than that, I have learnt how to work with other students and it feels good to be able to help them,” she says.
Common to all persons with cerebral palsy is a difficulty controlling and co-ordinating muscles, which makes even very simple movements difficult. While it is challenging for her as a mother and teacher, Ms. Davidson explains that her daughter, who started the programme in 1999 and graduated in 2006, is now enrolled at Hope Valley Experimental School and will be sitting the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) next year. She is grateful for the help her daughter received from the Early Stimulation Programme.
“As much as cerebral palsy causes the brain to be paralysed, it only affected her movement, so she is in a wheel chair. Cognitively, she is ok and was helped greatly by the Government’s Early Stimulation Programme and now she is going up for GSAT. I feel very proud of her progression,” she explains.
Ms. Davidson is encouraging parents of children with disabilities to persevere, and not give up, regardless of how disappointed they may feel during the early days after diagnosis, as assistance is available.
As a single parent, she was very impressed at the number of fathers who are also committed to their children and want to see them develop.
“Over the years that I have been here, I have seen a lot more fathers coming in. It is very good that we have children with committed fathers. The fathers would come in, pay attention to what we are doing and ask questions such as, ‘can I do this at home, can I do that at home with my child.’ The programme actually allow them to get involved and it is good to see them coming out, because it helps,” she adds.
Ms. Davidson points out that most times her class has 19 students with disabilities, and she finds it especially rewarding to see improvements in the children who had limited mobility.
“It is indeed heart warming to see children who could not do anything start doing something. It is also a very good feeling, just to see the kids graduate after going through the process. I cried at the last graduation we had, because it was so heart warming to see them communicating with people, something they would not have done before. So, you literally see that they have grown, that they have learnt and the parents are very proud. And that makes me love my job even more,” she tells JIS News.