KINGSTON — It is always heartwarming for parents to watch their children develop, whether their bundle of joy is able-bodied or has special needs.
Children with various forms of special needs have been receiving attention through the Government's Early Stimulation Programme (ESP), which seeks to assist disabled children to develop on their weak areas and eventually lead productive lives.
Speaking to JIS News, Director for the Early Stimulation Programme, Antonica Gunter Gayle, says many of the children enrolled in ESP have shown signs of improvement, and have graduated to take their place in the mainstream primary school system, or the special education system.
"We have graduated students with various types of developmental disabilities… from two types of programmes: one from our child development centre, Stimulation Plus; and the other from the community based rehabilitation progamme," she states.
"Those from the community-based rehabilitation programme are children, from birth to six years old, with various types of disabilities, and those from Stimulation Plus Child Development Centre are children, three to six years, and they too have various types of disabilities," she says.
The core mission of the ESP is to help to open doors of opportunities to every child with special needs. These children suffer from various conditions, including autism, behavioural disorders, learning disabilities, mental retardation, intellectual impairment or physical disabilities.
"We work with each child. Some of them come to us, can barely sit up, can barely open their hands, and we take them through a programme of intervention which includes cognitive development, personal social development, both expressive and receptive language, and we work with these children until they are able to move from one stage to another in their development," she explains.
She adds that as they progress, "we go to higher activities that they can manage, until they reach a stage in their development where we see where they exhibit their readiness skills to go on to the primary level education".
Ms. Gunter-Gayle says some of the children, at the end of the intervention period, are able to go into the regular school system. However others will still need special education and will be placed in the special education system, where they can get the type of continued intervention which is needed.
"It is our hope that these children will reach their highest potential, whether in special education or regular school system, and be the best that they can be," she says.
Last week, 35 students from the ESP were presented with certificates after successfully completing the intervention curriculum. Eight of them will be placed in regular primary schools.
Kizzyan Wright's son was among the graduates. He had behavioural problems and a speech impediment. She says that, within 18 months of his registration, she has seen remarkable improvements.
"(His) speech…and his behaviour have improved…he's more stable in class, so he has done very well because he wasn't doing very well at regular school. What happen is that there is a one on one with teachers and students at the stimulation, so he likes the one on one attention, so he had improved and it has worked for me," she says.
Another parent, Zadac Hamilton, says his son had problems remembering a s well as a speech impediment, but since he has been enrolled in the programme he has noticed significant improvements, lauding the teachers' significant role in his child's development.
Another parent, Dorma Codrington, whose child is autistic, describes the Early Stimulation Programme as a "God send".
"I used to have to hold his hand to do everything, now he's doing everything for himself and, to be honest, I am very blessed to be one of early stimulation parents, because before early stimulation it was very rough because he was at home…and there wasn't anywhere else," she posits.
Children are referred to the programme by hospitals, health centres, welfare clinics and basic schools, especially when they are not performing at required levels, and by persons who have already benefited from the programme.
Ms. Gunter Gayle is urging members of the public and the private sector to assist the programme, by making donations to ensure that its mandate is fulfilled.
Administered by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security since 1975, more than 30,000 children have benefited from the Early Stimulation Programme (ESP). The programme started in Kingston and St. Andrew and has since been extended to St. Catherine, St. Thomas and Portland. For more information about the ESP and how you can help, call 922-5585.
By Chris Patterson, JIS Reporter