Special Moments for children with Special Needs
On Friday evening over 100 children with their parents descended on the sports halls at The American International School Muscat for a party with face painting, art corners, a magic show, PE activities, skittles, and many others. There were drinks and snacks for hungry youngsters, with tea and coffee for adults. So what? you might ask. That sounds like any party which children throughout the Sultanate enjoy every weekend.
This was no ordinary celebration, however, as it was attended by children living with Down Syndrome in Oman and was hosted by the TAISM Community Service students (CAS), teachers and volunteers. Now in its 7th year, the event was coordinated by Keya Lahiri, the school’s Special Needs teacher and liaison with Oman Down Syndrome Association (ODSA). Pictures show happy painted faces and children tumbling and playing with the American School’s wonderful equipment. But this event only happens once a year.
According to the Chair of ODSA, Zuweina al Barwany, 1 out of every 400 babies in Oman are born with DS, yet in other countries, such as in Europe and the West, the ratio is 1 in 800 or 1,000.
There are 1,400 people in Oman living with Down Syndrome, yet only 217 are registered with the Parents’ Group of ODSA — and here is the startling fact — none receives Special Needs attention, places in special schools or assistance from the government. All services for these Special Needs students are provided through fund-raising, charities or donations. Their year-old purpose built facility in Azaiba was funded by private means and nothing came from public funds or ministry donations.
They are working closely with the Association for Early Intervention of Children with Disabilities, which also has its facility in Azaiba, but the ODSA is looking for an Oman-wide policy of support for these children and their parents to enable them to live full and integrated lives in the community. One family had travelled from Nizwa to join the gathering at TAISM, so of course it is impractical for them to attend a school in Muscat. They need local services, and there is a requirement for facilities in all major towns of Oman.
Children left the doors of TAISM at 7:00 p.m. and took pizza, a cup cake and candy-floss home with them. The memory of a happy afternoon will last much longer than the treats, but everyone is hoping for a solution to the lack of facilities for these children which will come quickly and stretch well into their secure futures.