Fight For Your Mind

I intend this as a message to mothers who have children living with disabilities. Having a child living with a disability can take its toll on the mind of the caregiver, which in most cases, is the mother of the disabled child.

Over the years, it has been discovered that women with children living with disabilities are likely to go into depression at one point or the other in their lifetime.


There are several things that can affect the mind of the mother of a child living with a disability. However, to effectively take care of a child that has a disability, the mother has to be mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually stable. The mother needs as much care as the child she is taking care of, if not more.

The initial thoughts that may go through the mind of a mother (especially one living in Africa) may be, what will people say? or Why me? What have I done?

In some parts of Africa, there are some people who do not regard disability as a medical condition but may insinuate that a child is disabled as a result of money ritual, infidelity by the wife or sin committed by the parents of the child.

On the other hand, the parents of the disabled child may think their child’s condition is as a result of witchcraft. This is bound to cause stress and conflict within the family.

In some religious circles, children with disabilities have been accused of being witches and may be beaten, chained and starved while being forced to denounce any form of association with witchcraft.

The government can check these negative beliefs by educating the public through different means such as, adverts, jingles, drama, music, seminars and teaching pupils from elementary school about disabilities.

For some parents that decide to seek medical help for their disabled children, they may also have challenges getting the appropriate medical treatment and rehabilitation therapy that their children require.

In Nigeria for instance, workers of public hospitals often go on strike and parents of these children may need to visit private hospitals. Bills of well-equipped private hospitals are quite high while some other private hospitals may not have the equipment or technical expertise to handle the situation. Some indigent parents are forced to take their children to native doctors for treatment.


Nigeria has also witnessed an increase in loss of medical professionals to developed countries in recent times. This may be due to the fact that these professionals perceive that there are better opportunities in those countries. Sometimes these parents complain that some of the Nigerian public hospitals are still using outdated and non-functional equipment.

Another issue that causes stress for the parents of children living with disabilities is locating a rehabilitation centre for their children’s therapy. Most indigent parents use the public hospitals where they can find a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, etc.

Some parents have to travel for several hours to get to the nearest public hospital that has a well-equipped rehabilitation centre in Lagos State. A lot of the parents prefer the Lagos University State Teaching Hospital and the National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi. To take such long journeys may cause a lot of physical, emotional and financial stress for the family.

Most indigent family members have to use public transportation to get to these hospitals. Nigeria’s main means of public transportation which is the commercial bus is not disability friendly. These buses are not adequate for wheelchair users. Therefore, where a child living with a disability has become a teenager, the mother may still need to carry the child physically on her back to go from her house to the hospital. Some of these parents may stop taking their children for therapy either due to backache or because there are no funds to charter a taxi. Taking the child for therapy will mean a loss of income for that day as they may need to spend the whole day at the hospital waiting to see the doctor.

What the government can do in this instance is to ensure that there are rehabilitation centres at community health centres in each state. They may open for two or three days in a week to attend to patients. This will definitely be a good initiative as parents don’t have to go far to seek therapy for their disabled children.

The financial implication of caring for a child with disability is huge especially if the mother needs to stay at home to look after the child. In some cases, the financial strain coupled with other external pressures, can break a marriage, if not handled with care.

If a marriage is broken because of the presence of a child living with disability, oftentimes the child is left with the mother.

In such an instance, the mother needs support. If the mother can get support from her family, that will take some burden off her. If that is not available, the woman can join support groups. The members of these groups are mostly mothers who have children with disabilities. In most cases, the mother will able to share her burden with other others in the same situation and also benefit from activities that will enhance her child’s life.

The mother also needs to learn to be calm. She needs to understand that she is not the first person to have a child with disability and she won’t be the last. What her child is going through is a medical condition. In most instances, this can be managed with drugs, surgeries and therapies.

In the case of neurological disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism etc, the mother needs to manage her expectations about how fast the child should improve. As of today, there is no cure for these types of disabilities but they can be managed through therapy. Most mothers give up on their children when they have tried a few therapies and there seems to be no immediate improvement. Treatment for these medical conditions cannot be compared to taking drugs for malaria. Therapies are used to manage the medical conditions to ensure the child can live with some form of independence.

The mother of the child needs to learn how to reduce stress so that she doesn’t break down mentally and physically.

One way for her to do this is to find a crèche or school that can take care of her child even for a few hours in a day. This will allow the mother to have some time to care for herself and also find a viable business to do to generate income.

Exercise is also a good way to reduce stress. If all a mother can do is to take a stroll without her child in the evening, it will clear her mind and it is also a form of relaxation.

As much as possible, she needs to guard her heart against all forms of negativity, fear and doubt. She should surround herself with positive people and choose to be happy. Everybody is fighting a battle. Theirs may just be different from yours.

Truly, being a mother of a child with disabilities in a country where there is little or no help from the government can really be challenging.

However, it is best to be determined to live the best life that you can possibly live.


Founder of Diary of A Special Needs Mum Initiative, Bukola Ayinde launches Four Books

Bukola Ayinde, Founder, Diary of a special Needs Mum Initiative had the launch of her four books last Sunday, 8th of July, which was also her birthday.

Her friends and family turned out in large numbers to celebrate this great feat with her.

Opening prayer was said by AVM Femi Gbadebo, Founder, Benola Organisation, Opening address by Dotun Akande of Patrick Speech and Languages. The first review was done by a six year old girl, Uyi Uwumarogie, a pupil of New Hall Nursery and Primary School. While the second was done by Dr. Ogechi Adeola,a member of the faculty at Lagos Business School. The third book review was done by Ifeanyi Omeni, an author and editor. While the last book review was done by  Feyi Olubodun, MD, Insight Communication.

There was also a five-man panel who spoke about ‘Disability and Inclusion’ in Nigeria. The panel consisted of: The author, Bukola Ayinde, Tobiloba Ajayi,Founder, Let Cp Kids Learn; Folusho Liasu, Founder, Super Parents (of children with disabilities), Bisola Babatude-Idowu, owner, Great Expectation Inclusive School and Korede Oladejo, Kabworld Physiotherapy.

The books were unveiled by Rufai Yusuf Ahmad, National President, Nigeria Society of Physiotherapists.

According to the author one of the major problems that people with disability face in Nigeria is stigmatization. This is mainly due to the wrong information that has been passed from one generation to another that children with disabilities are from strange worlds and therefore evil. Bukola hopes with these books, the younger generation will read them and understand that disabilities are medical conditions. She also hopes that children that read the book would grow up to become law makers, ministers in different sectors of the country, president, teachers, disability advocate who will fight for the rights of people living with disabilities.

My Name is Nimi – Is a story about the author’s five years old daughter, Oluwalonimi, who has cerebral palsy. It is a story told in her voice. She tells her friends why she is sitting on a wheelchair and why she cannot do things like them. She also tells her friends the things that she can do just like them. It ends with Nimi asking the reader the question, ‘will you be my friend?’

My Name is Nimi (colouring book)- The story of Nimi has a colouring book for younger children. With short sentences telling the story about Nimi with simple words.

My Sister is Special– The story was inspired by the author’s second daughter, who couldn’t understand the reason Nimi was getting most of the attention at home. The story helps children to appreciate their lives and to know that the grass is not always greener on the other side. It also tells parents to give attention to other children while caring for a special needs child.

Peter is different-Ten year old Jude has a new classmate, Peter who looks different from everyone else. This story was inspired by the persistent discrimination faced by children with disabilities in mainstream schools in Nigeria. The author showed how giving students the right information about disabilities could foster love and acceptance. The book also answered the question, who are the true bullies in a mainstream school? Is it the pupils, teachers, school owners or parents of pupils in the school? Find out the answers to these questions and more.

The books are available in bookshops in Lagos: Glendora Bookshop, City Mall Ikeja, Bookworm Bookshop at Illupeju, by Oshodi Apapa Expway, Ebano supermarket, chevon road.

For home and office delivery kindly contact 08035754038;

The books will be available on Amazon in August, 2018.

Love without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: Bullying & the Role of Parents

Bullying can be described as the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate or aggressively dominate others.

Bullying takes place in all works of life. It may occur at home, in school, in church, at work, on the internet, anywhere. I have a five year old daughter living with cerebral palsy (cerebral palsy is the damage to the part of the brain that controls the muscles) so I live with the consciousness that she may be bullied. I am also an advocate for children living with disabilities so this is a topic that is dear to my heart.
Taking a look at the school setting, there are usually different parties to bullying.

1. The bully (The ring leader) The one who initiates the action.
2. The co-conspirator
a. The one who supports the bully or laughs at the person being bullied.
3. The enabler
a. The one who sees the wrong actions and looks away because he is afraid that he may also be bullied.
4. The person that is being bullied

It is pertinent to state that a child doesn’t need to have a disability before he or she is bullied. A child can be bullied for being tall or short; for being too slim or fat; for being very fair in complexion or being very dark. A child can be bullied for simply being the newest kid on the block.

Where do bullies come from?

1. Parents who are also bullies
Some parents are consciously or unconsciously grooming bullies from the home front. Children of warriors; parents who do not take kindly to their children showing any form of weakness. They encourage their children to put fear into others because they think it is synonymous with gaining respect. Children also watch and learn from their parents. They see the way their parents embarrass their domestic staff and the look of fear on the faces of the staff. They also watch and learn when their parents shout at each other and the way they handle conflicts.

2. Overindulgent parents
There are some parents that over indulge their children. They give in to all their request even when the request is ridiculous and unnecessary. I was told of the story of a little girl in primary 1 who had her birthday party in school and brought 15 party packs instead of 16. She told her parents that she did not want to give the 16th person any gift because the girl looks and behaves differently from the rest of the class. She made it clear to her parents that she didn’t like the girl. The parents obeyed and provided only 15 party packs. That kind of parent is an enabler.

When a child exhibits such hurtful and unkind behavior and it is not nipped in the bud, the child may develop a mean personality and a monster is created.

A word of advice: Not for one second should a parent think that it is only the society that will feel the brunt of the child that was not properly trained. Pressed down, shaken together and running over will this child give back to the parents – either when he becomes a teenager, a young adult or when the parents are senior citizens and he starts to make decisions about their lives.

There is a proverb that says that it is the child that we did not train or build up that will sell the house that we built.

3. Dysfunctional families
A dysfunctional family is a family in which conflict, misbehavior, and often child neglect or abuse on the part of individual parents occur continuously and regularly, leading other members to accommodate such actions. In simple terms, hurting people hurt others. They want to be loved but the only way they know how to behave is by hurting people.

4. The strong-willed child
There are some children that are naturally stubborn. In most cases they have choleric temperaments. Sometimes, such children have very strong wills and do not take lightly to being told what to do. Some parents may not understand how to handle such children and some parents may resolve to beating and name calling. This may only make the child hardened. Some other parents may get tired of the child’s pranks and completely ignore the child.

5. Children without guardians
Children with absentee parents may also fall into this category. When there is no adult figure that corrects the child in love, the child is left on his own to form his own rules about life based on what he perceives to be right or what he has learnt from his friends. This is also true about children on the streets, touts and misfits.

6. Children who have been bullied
In some cases, children who have been bullied also become bullies. Some parents are bullies. They bully their spouses; they bully their children and anyone around them who is of lower strength. This may affect children living in that kind of toxic environment to either become a bully or develop very low self esteem.
Another example of this is in boarding schools. JS 2 students will bully JS 1 students. When JS 1 students become JS 2 students they will also bully the new JS 1 students – unless someone breaks the cycle.

What is the solution?
1. We have to be deliberate with our parenting skills. When last did you take your child with you when you went out to do a good deed? May be for the less privileged.

2. What values are you showing (not by talking alone) but showing your child?

3. Are you an enabler? When your child makes derogatory comments about others do you take out time to explain that that is not acceptable.

4. If you have a strong-willed child, I am a person of faith, so I will ask you to pray for your child then seek professional help if you don’t know how to help your child. Please don’t label him a bully, it will only make him or her harden. There are counsellors in schools, there are also child psychologist that can guide a parent towards helping a child that is strong willed.

5. A child may not be a bully but he may be one who looks away when someone is being bullied. I wrote a book called Peter is Different. Peter had cerebral palsy and one of Peter’s classmates, Jude, got home and told his father that he didn’t like the way some of his classmates treated Peter. The way they spoke badly about him and laughed at him. Jude’s father asked Jude what Jude had done about it. Jude said he had done nothing because if he did, the boys may just bully him instead. Then his father told him, if you turn and face the other way when someone is being bullied, then you are also a bully. Strong people stand up for themselves but stronger people stand up for others.

Let’s encourage our children to build the right values and stand for what is right.


Love without Boundaries Bukola Ayinde: Beyond Twisted Bodies – My Visit to Modupe Cole Memorial Childcare Home

I’d heard so much about the occupants of Modupe Cole Memorial – a  care and treatment home for children living with disabilities. With those stories, I felt like I had been there a thousand times. I was told I couldn’t go into a particular dormitory there without being overwhelmed by the sight. There were children living in conditions not fit for human habitation, they said.

I’d heard that some of the children were chained to their beds like animals, that their caregivers were immune to their sufferings. I had the opportunity to visit on the 15th of September, 2018, courtesy of a friend of mine who donated some CP wheelchairs (wheelchairs suitable for children who have cerebral palsy) to the children at Modupe Cole.

Modupe Cole is a popular orphanage that has a special needs school and a physiotherapy clinic located in Yaba, Lagos. At Modupe Cole, there are children living with different types of disabilities, ranging from cerebral palsy, autism, down syndrome, hydrocephalus, polio, and many others. From my research, I discovered that the centre was founded by late Modupe Cole in 1961 under Child Care Social Services-Women Voluntary Organisation (CCSS-WVO). The home-school was established in recognition of the desperate need for the physically handicapped and mentally challenged children to have an environment where they can be taught, loved and helped to live a full and normal life as much as possible. Children cared for in the home-school were brought in by their parents, schools, hospitals and missionaries. When the school started in 1961, late Mrs Modupe Cole was the principal, with other professionals and volunteers.

Unfortunately, in 1979, Modupe Cole (home and school) was taken over by the government (along with other special, private and missionary schools). It has been managed by the government till date but the physiotherapy clinic remains under the management of CCSS-WVO.

Coincidentally, on that day, I met Adebayo Adeyemi-Cole, the son of late Modupe Cole. Adebayo Cole is a soft-spoken gentleman who is probably in his 70s and currently the secretary of CCSS-WVO. One of the officials at Modupe Cole Memorial told all the people who came to witness the donation that we will be taken on a tour around the dormitory I had heard so much about. The people included the person making the donation, her husband and children, and her friends. Some of her friends also came along with their children.

I was invited to witness the donation and also to speak about cerebral palsy and how it can be managed. We were a group of about twelve people which included some children. As we walked into the dormitory, I could barely control my curiosity. I couldn’t wait to see the place for myself.  At least when others talked about the children of Modupe Cole, I would also say I have been there.

We all moved towards the dormitory and a lady introduced herself to us as our guide. When we got to the entrance of the dormitory, some of children that followed us turned back. I guess they had heard some scary things about the children they were going to see and did not want to see them. I encouraged them to go back to where the wheelchairs to be donated were kept and wait for us. We had been told that this dormitory was for children who were fully dependent on their caregivers to do everything for them. I assumed they would all be in diapers and would need someone to feed them, clean them up and dress them up too. They definitely would require a lot of care and attention.

Right by the door of dormitory, we met a very slim girl who was about 5 feet tall. She stood looking at us as we walked in. She wore a gown that looked like a nightie, which was knotted at the back of her neck. I guess so that it wouldn’t fall off her shoulders. She seemed to be inspecting each person that entered. As I moved closer to her, I realized she was not a young girl. She was a woman with numerous grey strands on her short, bushy hair. One of her hands was bent at the elbow and she could only extend her palm slowly. Even though her face looked peaceful, she could still have scared a child. It was hard to tell if she was mentally stable but I decided to be friendly. I gave her a very warm smile and said, ‘Hello, I am here to see your home. How are you doing?’ She gave me a shy smile and extended her free hand to me so I gave her a high five.

I followed the others as we went through the door that led inside the dormitory where the children were. The room reminded me of a general hospital. It was crowded with children lying down on the beds, on the floor, or simply sitting down in different positions. The room was divided into two, with several beds lined up on each side of the room. At a glance, there were about fifteen or more children in that room. The smell of urine mixed with disinfectant attacked my nostrils, but guess what? It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I was more concerned about the plight of the children that occupied the room and the smell faded away. I could have stayed in that room for hours, not concerned about the smell, and believe me when I say I have a heightened sense of smell.

The first bed was occupied by two young children around the ages of nine or ten. I couldn’t tell if they were boys or girls. It was obvious that they had mobility problems which is associated with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a disorder that causes damage to the part of the brain that controls the muscles which controls movement. They were lying on their backs on the bed and they looked like they couldn’t talk but I moved close to them and reached for their minds. I have learnt to look beyond a twisted body and to talk to the mind buried within what can be seen.

‘Hello, my darlings. My name is Bukola Ayinde,’ I said with a smile. I encouraged them to say hello to me and they did. I moved to the next bed. I decided to spend a little more time with each child as our tour guide was giving a little history of a few of the occupants of the room.

I met two little boys about the age of six who were lying on a small wooden bed. The boys were smiling at me and I couldn’t resist their smiles, so I made a detour to their bed and told them I loved their smiles. They actually looked like twins. I asked them if they were twins but they only smiled at me. The women who took care of them told me they weren’t twins. I walked away from there and saw a little girl eating her breakfast. She was lying down flat on her back. When it was time to eat, she opened her mouth in that position. I told the caregiver feeding her that the child’s position was unsafe as the child could easily choke. She told me confidently that that was how God created all the children living in the dormitory and feeding them that way would not affect them in any way. In fact, she told me boldly that that was how the other caregivers fed most of the children. I smiled at her ignorance. It was pointless telling her that her feeding method was wrong. Even if it didn’t choke the child, it could cause respiratory infection if the food went the wrong way. I smiled at the woman and kept moving. I made a mental note of the feeding habit so I could later discuss with Rev Cole.

I saw a little boy lying on the floor in front of a bed, tied to the bed with what looked like a cloth, but I did not bother to ask any question because I already knew the answer. A friend of mine who had visited the place earlier had asked the caregivers why he was tied in that manner. They told her that the child often fell from the bed and moved around the room on the floor and therefore caused injury to himself and others.

I saw another little boy who was seated on the floor close to the corner of the room. It seemed he was sleeping in that position so I moved closer to inspect him, but his eyes were closed, though I was sure he was awake. I left him and walked around the room. At this point, I didn’t bother to catch up with the tour guide and the other people I came with. I could hear some of the things the tour guide was saying but I decided to spend a little more time with the children.

Most of the children were lying down on their beds in awkward positions. Their bodies were twisted in angles better seen than imagined but like I said earlier, I have learnt to look beyond twisted bodies and reach for the beautiful minds within. No matter how twisted the body may seem, there may still be a mind not touched by the imperfections of the body. It only needs a little patience, a warm smile and a charitable soul to reach out to the beautiful mind lying beneath a twisted body. How do I know?

My daughter, Nimi, taught me that. She is five years old and she is living with cerebral palsy. Some of the children said hello to me and most of them smiled happily. I shook their hands and gave some a high five. The caregivers told me that the children were always excited to see visitors. I imagined they would. Who wouldn’t? Some of them were always on their beds, all day, all week, all month, all year. In fact, probably all their lives. In that dormitory, there were more children than beds. Two or three children shared a bed, depending on their sizes. The beds were quite small, by the way. They were best suited for one child at a time.

Looking at it from a different angle, it may have been better for these children to share their beds, at least during the day. It was like having friends come over to your place to visit. It may be comforting to know that another human body like theirs was lying right beside them. Just my thoughts. I heard the tour guide telling everyone about a boy who was fully dependent. He was lying down on his chest on his bed yet he could draw with his toes. I moved close to him and told him, ‘I heard you are an artist.’ The boy looked like he was in his teens. He smiled and I smiled back at him.

I was the last person to leave the dormitory. I wanted to put a smile on each child’s face. I wanted the children to feel special, even if it was for the moment. I didn’t want them to feel like some ornament in a museum that some tourist came to see. They are children. No matter how twisted their bodies may be, they are human beings.

After everyone I came with had left the dormitory, I stayed back to speak with the caregivers. They were elderly women who seemed nice and loved taking care of the children. I strongly believed that they couldn’t perform beyond their capacity. I think they were doing their best when one compared their level of education and training to the kind of children with complex medical disorders they were to care for.

As I got to the door of the dormitory and was about to leave, I met a very little boy of about seven years old lying on a bed next to the door. His left leg was twisted in an awkward angle. One of the caregivers told me that he asked if he could get one of the wheelchairs that we came to donate. I didn’t know if he would get one and I didn’t want to give him false hope, so I smiled at him.

Though I had left the place, my mind kept wandering back to the children who had been abandoned in that place. It was apparent their parents were never going back for them. Many of them would have thrived if they lived in a society that believed that they just had a medical disorder and not strange children from the devil. They would have thrived if they had the backing of a government that could build functional rehabilitation centers. They would have thrived if their parents had damned the societal or religious beliefs and refused to give up on them. If only they had families who cared for them, loved them in spite of their disabilities, they certainly would have thrived.

You know, even the boy who had the most twisted body in that dormitory had a very genuine smile. I didn’t leave the dormitory sad or heartbroken like I thought I would. Rather, I left there hopeful. Though their bodies were twisted in awkward positions, for most of them, their minds were still alive. As I left with my companions, I knew that wasn’t going to be my last visit to Modupe Cole.

Not to forget, the little boy at the door of the dormitory was the first to get a CP wheelchair.

Love without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: Homeschooling Your Special Needs Child

Homeschooling or home education can be defined as the education of children outside a school setting. This simply means that a child does not attend a regular school, but a parent or teacher teaches the child at home. In the case of a family with a special needs child, this means that the child is not attending a special school or a mainstream school. Rather, the child is being taught either by a teacher or the parent.
In my opinion, which is in line with Alliance for Inclusive Education UK, the best schooling environment for a special needs child is in the mainstream setting. However, there are instances where this may not be possible or where the child’s potentials are not fully harnessed in the mainstream school that is available.

Reasons for homeschooling a child may include:
Funding: If parents are unable to pay the fees of a private mainstream school or a special school, then they may decide to homeschool the special needs child. Funding may also include the cost of transportation. If a child has a movement disorder and a big stature, or the child is approaching the preteen or teenage years, then it may be difficult for that child to take public transportation to school. Public transportation in Nigeria is not disability-friendly and it is quite expensive to use taxis on a daily basis, even for average income earners.

Another reason for homeschooling a special needs child is if it becomes obvious that the child is not benefiting from the school he or she is attending. It may be that the school the child attends pays lip service to inclusive education. This means that though children with special needs are admitted, the school has no constructive plan to include them in regular school activities or the teachers are not adequately trained to facilitate learning for the children.

Another reason for homeschooling a special needs child could be that the parents cannot find a school in the neighbourhood that is willing to admit the child.

If a special needs child has other complicated medical conditions that affect him or her, then the parents may consider homeschooling. An example is a child who suffers from seizures, a child who is constantly on oxygen machine or a child who feeds through a tube attached to the stomach region. In developed countries, children in this category still go to school; in fact, some go to mainstream schools. However, in Nigeria, these types of medical conditions might hinder a special needs child from getting admission into a good school of his or her choice so homeschooling the child may be the only option.

These are not the only reasons why special needs children are homeschooled.

Early this year, I met a woman whose son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at about two years old, but when I met the boy at the age of eight, he had serious behavioural disorder. When I spoke with the mother about the boy, she said he had been attending an inclusive primary school. However, he was kept in a separate class with two other boys who had autism and that was where he received most of his tuition.  This is a boy who cannot take instructions and makes a lot of noise that can distract other kids. How can such a boy be placed in a class with other children? That will certainly be unfair to the children. It was obvious that the parents and the school did not get things right from the beginning.

I advised the mother to withdraw the boy from the mainstream school and not seek to put him in another mainstream school for a while. I was certain that no mainstream school will allow the boy to stay in the same class with other regular students.

Inclusive education happens when children with disabilities and others without disabilities participate and learn together in the same classes. However, the truth about inclusive education is that the child needs to be given an appropriate diagnosis at an early age, as well as an effective rehabilitation plan. This will also work hand in hand with the appropriate support in school to make inclusive education effective.

Inclusive education is not magic. It is the combination of hard work, patience, consistency by the parents of the child, the school and its teachers as well as the child’s therapy team.

I told the mother of the boy to enroll him in a private special needs school for children with autism but the woman complained about the exorbitant fees of the school. The other alternative is to employ a behavioural therapist to work with the child at home. The child needed to calm down and learn how to take instructions. A one-on-one approach was the best option for him.

In my own case, I withdrew my daughter who was about three years old and living with cerebral palsy, from the mainstream school she was attending. She had been assaulted by her physiotherapist and I was scared of letting her out of my sight. I did not have any problem with her school, but I wanted to keep a closer watch on her. At that time, she was completely non-verbal and that meant she was unable to tell me if someone tried to hurt her.

In handling her homeschooling, the first thing I did was to ask my friends who had children her age, what their children were learning in school. As at then, my daughter was supposed to be in toddlers class, going to nursery one. I drew up a timetable which consisted of her physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy as well as a time to learn phonics, alphabets, numbers, shapes and colours. She also used flashcards, pop-up storybooks, musical instruments and toys to enhance her hand functions. My husband and I employed a school teacher who came to teach her three times a week. We also employed an assistant teacher who stayed with her from morning until evening during the week. Her therapies which included physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy were also conducted at home.

My daughter had a daily routine then. I woke her up at 6a.m as if she was going to a regular school. Then she would be given a bath and breakfast. Thereafter, she would be assisted to walk around the compound of the house. I allocated a small portion of the flowerbed in the compound to her so she could grow a plant. Her nanny assisted her and they grew corn. The whole idea was for her to carry a small plastic watering can so that she could water the plant and also remove the weeds. She could not do these things by herself but with the appropriate assistance, it was achievable.

Exposing a child to early morning sun which is rich in Vitamin D is one of the benefits of walking outside the house. The child will also breathe in fresh air. Walking also helps the blood in the body to circulate better and it is very beneficial to the joints and muscles. It is important to reiterate that my daughter is unable to walk by herself, so her caregiver supports her with a walker.

After that morning ritual, other activities such as learning her phonetics or numbers as well as her therapies, will kick off.

In order to balance the lack of social interaction with her peers, I ensured that from Monday to Friday, when her sister got back from school, they would visit our neighbours who had children in their age group. My neighbour had a big trampoline and swings for children to play with. They were often joined by children from other homes and all of them would play in my neighbour’s compound for an hour.

One of the benefits of homeschooling for my daughter was that I was also able to monitor her feeding. Previously, I had taken her to a nutritionist because she was underweight. However, after she spent two months at home with proper care, she began to add weight. She was also allowed to take a nap after therapy.
The school teacher working with her gave me a list of age appropriate books to buy. They included books about colours, shapes, birds, animals, fruits, cars and trucks. All these books required her to colour. My husband made photocopies of each page so she could do the same classwork as often as possible. She was colouring and she was learning. Colouring meant she would exercise her arms and fingers.

The assistant teacher that we employed did most of the work. She continued the teaching every day except Sundays. Gradually, everyone realised that Oluwalonimi was trying to talk. All our efforts were yielding fruits.

One of the reasons homeschooling worked for my daughter was because I was staying at home with her. I had made up my mind that it was going to work. I did a lot of research and asked people in the disability management profession a lot of questions. I organised my daughter’s programmes, monitored them and ensured they was working for her.

It is best for parents who want to homeschool their special needs children to carry along the children’s therapists. It is also very important for the parents to carry out their own private research on how best to homeschool their children. Parents, you must be willing to try new things. You may make some mistakes but eventually, you will find out what works best for your children.

Just as inclusive education requires hard work and commitment, homeschooling a special needs child also requires commitment, consistency and passion for it to be successful. It is not what you do when you have the time; it is what you must do to achieve a goal.

Homeschooling my daughter meant I had to suspend every other commitment that I had. A friend of mine who works with children who have disabilities suggested that I take my daughter to a mainstream school at least three times a week. I was very reluctant at first but when my daughter, Oluwalonimi began to cry in the morning whenever she saw her younger sister going to school, I knew it was time to reintroduce her to mainstream school.

I found a school with a small number of students that could cater to her needs and she adapted real quick. She started attending the school three times a week, now she goes there five times a week. My daughter has a caregiver who stays with her in school. She also has her therapies three times a week. I have continued to monitor her food intake and she has continued to gain weight that is appropriate for her age.

Homeschooling has its good points. However, when it is not well managed, it may take a toll on the mental and physical health of the caregivers, as it is quite tasking. Where necessary, it can be done for a certain period of time and the child should be re-introduced to mainstream school or a special school that is appropriate for the child’s needs.

Love without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: Are Special Schools the Best Option for Special Needs Kids?

A special school is a school for students who have special educational needs due to learning difficulties, physical disabilities or behavioural problems. In my quest to understand how our special schools work in Lagos, Nigeria, I visited both public and private special schools in Lagos State. I can boldly say that the public schools do not offer great services. This leaves us to depend on private special schools to meet the needs of children with special needs.

On the other hand, the school fees for private special needs schools are expensive especially those located on the Island in Lagos, Nigeria.

Pacelli school for the blind is run by Catholics (Congregation of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus ) and they are doing a fantastic job, despite the little resources at their disposal. Wesley school for the deaf is also located at Surulere in Lagos State. However, majority of the other public schools that accept children with neurological disabilities such as cerebral palsy, down syndrome, autism and others, do not have the funding, facility or training to handle the children.

Most of the public special schools in Lagos State focus on therapy (sometimes this is also not provided adequately) and give little concern to educating the mind. I am of the opinion that education opens the mind of children (with or without disability). No one is asking that every child must study law or receive a university degree. The most important thing in any human life is to be able to express his or her needs in any form and also have some form of independence. This should be the goal of special schools.

My daughter attended a summer school at Peto Institute in Hungary, Europe. It is a school for children with cerebral palsy. This is a school with boarding facility completely funded by the government. It has a beautiful serene environment where all children are treated with dignity. Well trained facilitators and fully equipped therapy rooms and classrooms. A lot of their equipment are made of wood and the institute has in-house carpenters who make these equipment. I strongly believe this will reduce cost too.

The entire facility was adapted to meet the children’s needs. The chairs and tables were suited for them. There were long horizontal bars by the sides of the wall that the children could hold on to. This would enable the ones that could walk with support move along the corridor of the school on their own. There were also very wide elevators to move the children from one floor of the building to another.

The restrooms were also adapted for their use. Instead of a handle for flushing the toilet, there was a rope to pull which was hanging down from the top of the restroom wall. It was easily accessible to any child who had shaky movements or unstable grip which is common with people living with cerebral palsy.
When the institute is in session, the children partake in numeracy, literacy, art, music, sports and therapy. They are also taught how to live an independent life. If a special needs school in Nigeria can achieve this, then they have done well.
Now to the big question, if a special needs school can achieve this, then why do children living with disabilities need to attend mainstream schools?

The answer is very simple. It is because there is no special world. There is no special community. There is no special place of employment (if there are, they must be very few). There is no special university and very few special secondary (high) schools.

It has been proven over and over again that when children with neurological disorder are introduced into mainstream education at an early age, and they are also given appropriate educational tools and assistance as well as continue with their therapies, drugs and treatment where applicable, they are likely do much better in adapting to the society than children who have attended special schools most of their lives.

Secondly, non-disabled children will also benefit from schooling with children living with disabilities. They will understand diversity and differences early in life. They will know how to interact with people who are different from them. It may also challenge them to be creative in their communication and approach to life. They may also come up with inventions in science and technology that will help children living with disabilities. Not to forget that while the teacher is looking for creative ways to teach the special needs children they will also discover methods to teach children who are slow in learning. Definitely it is a win- win situation.

Do you know that even children who have schizophrenia can also go to school, get jobs and grow up to have families of their own? What is required is early intervention. Where the child is using the drugs as prescribed, having psychotherapy and as well as getting an education in a mainstream school (and a special needs school where necessary) which models the right attitude.

It has also been argued that when children who have cerebral palsy and autism learn together consistently, the children with cerebral palsy tend to acquire behavioral problems similar to autism. In my experience most of the kids with cerebral palsy that I have seen with behavioral problems have been schooling with children with autism. It has been said that children with cerebral palsy imitate behaviours of the kids constantly around them.
Secondly, when children with cerebral palsy learn in the same classroom with neurotypical children (children developing normally), they are more likely to imitate good behaviour. Will this alliance affect neurotypical kids? The answer is no.

Can children with autism study in the same classroom with neurotypical children?
Yes, they can. However, it is a whole lot easier if the child with autism started therapy and schooling early and the school the child attended have trained teachers that understand his needs or the child living with autism comes to school with his own therapist or study assistant. Depending on the severity of the child’s diagnosis, the child may also require therapy after school or he may start his schooling by attending a special school fully or partially (such as two or three times a week).
Should we then rule out special needs schools? Unfortunately for many years to come in Nigeria we will not be able to achieve this.

For a child living with disability to adjust into a mainstream school then the child must have benefited from early intervention (correct diagnosis at an early age, treatment, rehabilitation plan and early education). Early intervention in disability management is still a huge problem in Nigeria.

Secondly, most of our private schools are yet to embrace inclusive education. Therefore, parents with children with disabilities find it difficult to get schools that will accept and meet the needs of their children.
Many schools in Nigeria have not trained their teachers to work with children with disability. I believe special education should become a compulsory subject for all teachers and sign language a course that they should learn. I believe this will also enrich their course curriculum.

The basis of the problem in public schools in Nigeria is the decay in the educational sector. The mainstream schools are in dire need of a total overhaul and little attention is given to disabled students.

In the meantime, I will advise parents with children with disabilities to become their children’s first teachers and of course advocates. Search out the best educational needs for your child and locate where these needs can be met.

My next point of discussion is on how to homeschool your special needs child.


Love Without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: The Role of Special Schools in Disability Management

In the past few months, I have been talking about the need for inclusive education for children living with disability.Inclusive education simply means that all students attend, and are welcome by mainstream schools (schools that are not special needs schools) These schools are age appropriate, have regular classes and where children are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life.

I have discussed the benefits of inclusive education to the special needs child, mainstream school, teachers, students, parents, and the society at large. I dream of a day when a child with disability or special learning needs will not be discriminated against in a mainstream school in Nigeria. However, we are not there yet.

We still live in a society where many private schools prevent children with disabilities from attending their schools. For most low-income earners in Nigeria, their disabled children may only be able to attend public special schools for disabled children or public inclusive schools even though the disabled children are kept in separate classes from the regular classes.

To help a child with disability adjust into a mainstream school, the child’s parents must key into early intervention for that child. Early intervention for children with disabilities simply means doing things as early as possible to work on your child’s developmental health and support needs.

For example, Rufus was diagnosed of cerebral palsy some months after birth. At the age of three, he was unable to sit and stand unsupported. He could not use his hands properly. However, he started his physiotherapy and he attended a regular school where he mixed with other children. With support, love, therapy and an education, Rufus became a lawyer. Rufus can also get married and have children.

Another example is Beatrice. She was diagnosed of down syndrome at birth. She started her therapies while she was still a few months old. She started school at the age of two and it was soon discovered that she had a learning disability. She could not learn as fast as her classmates but her parents kept her in school. She did not walk until she was three. Beatrice was slow in attaining all her developmental milestones. However, she was very friendly with her classmates; she always knew when someone needed a hug and would give it generously. During the extracurricular classes, it was discovered that Beatrice loved to swim. Her parents encouraged her and today, a grownup Beatrice contest in Paralympic swimming.

Not every child had the opportunity to obtain an early diagnosis. Sometimes, after the parents have received the diagnosis, they refuse to seek the necessary therapy for their child rather they run from pillar to post looking for a miraculous cure.

Some other parents live in denial for many years and the child is not improving. In some cases when the parents get a medical diagnosis for their children and they search for mainstream schools that can accept them, they do not find. Some schools accept children with special needs because of the money they will make, even though they do not have knowledge or training in handling these children. For example, Latoye has autism. At the age of four he started mainstream school without a support system in his class. He had had several outbursts during classes to the dismay of his classmates. At the end of the term Latoye did not learn anything new rather he had become more violent. On a particular day he wandered out of his class and he was almost getting to the carpark before he was discovered. Latoye’s parents withdrew him from mainstream school and enrolled him in a special school. In some of these cases, a special needs school becomes the only solution.

There have been several debates and school of thoughts who believe that children with disability cannot effectively learn in a mainstream school. Some even say they are a source of distraction to other non-disabled students.

It is pertinent to mention some common disabilities and wrong assumptions. Cerebral palsy has to do with a movement disorder because it affects the part of the brain that controls the muscles. Due to the fact that the muscles control all our movement, a person living with cerebral palsy appears like someone who is not in control of their mind. People often think that children with cerebral palsy have intellectual disability or that they are mentally incapable of doing anything by themselves. Some people even call them imbeciles. This is a wrong assumption. A person with cerebral palsy may have other disabilities but this doesn’t necessary follow. Therefore, the needs of a student with cerebral palsy will mainly be physical unless the child has other ailments. The student may need a support table and chair. He may not be able to use his hands and in other cases he may not have speech. If a school works around these challenges then a child living with cerebral palsy can go to a mainstream school. Can children with cerebral palsy go to mainstream schools effectively? The answer is yes!

On the other hand, Autism and ADHD are more of emotional and behavioural needs. A child with autism may not understand how to handle social interaction and communication. While a child diagnosed with ADHD may have above-normal levels of hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. Therefore, this child may have issues with handling self-control. While children with Down Syndrome usually learn and progress more slowly than most children.
I am of the opinion that when these children key into early intervention (medical, therapies, education) and the mainstream schools painstakingly take out time to learn about these disabilities, train their teachers, and give the necessary support in and outside of the classrooms, the children will thrive.

However, today’s reality is that not many schools in Nigeria are ready to take this route. Some schools will claim that they operate inclusive education but the special needs children are kept in separate classes. In some other schools, the special needs children attend one or two subjects in the regular class but are pulled out of the classroom for a better part of the school period.

The longer it takes for parents to get the right help (medical treatment, rehabilitation therapies, education, social interaction) for their children, the more difficult it is for these children to be integrated into the regular classroom.

I once met a woman who has an eight year old boy attending an inclusive primary school. The boy was initially placed in the regular class with other students but at the request of the parents with non-disabled kids he was moved into a separate class with two other boys who had different forms of autism. The day I met the boy, as he sat in front of me and I spent some time observing him without him knowing, I saw that his behavior was quite disturbing as he could not sit still and he would laugh at nothing in particular and hit the wall or the chair or himself. It was obvious the school he was attending did not have an idea on how to handle him. I advised the mother to withdraw the boy from the mainstream school and enroll him into a very good special school for children with autism (for six months or one year) or she could look for a behavioural therapist and homeschool him before looking for another mainstream school that could meet his needs. It was obvious the boy did not get the right help for him early- early intervention and currently, he needed intensive behavioural therapy.
Can we then say that special schools are better equipped than mainstream schools in handling children with disabilities and special learning needs?

The answer to this and much more will be discussed in the next article. In the meantime, let’s love without boundaries.

Love without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: The Benefits of Inclusive Education

My daughter, Oluwalonimi was diagnosed of cerebral palsy at eight months. Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that is caused by damage to some part of the brain which controls the muscles. This damage may occur before birth, during birth or the first few years of a child’s life.

In Oluwalonimi’s case, when I was pregnant with her, I had pre-eclampsia which is a pregnancy disorder characterized by high blood pressure, swelling of hands and legs and a significant amount of protein in the urine. The result of this was that Nimi was born some weeks earlier than her due date and she also had very low birth weight. She had jaundice and suffered apnea (which is a sleep disorder) while in the neo natal unit.
At four months she was unable to hold her head upright as she should at that age. At eight months after several tests were conducted she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

After my husband and I received Nimi’s diagnosis, we were told she may never be able to talk, walk, or even reason like other children. We were devastated. However, we were encouraged by one of her therapist to enroll her into school at the age of 2.

When Nimi started schooling, she didn’t give us any indication that she could learn, but we kept her in school with her peers.

In 2016, she was physically assaulted by her physiotherapist, so we got really scared for her wellbeing and we decided to care for her at home.

Then Tobiloba Ajayi, a disability advocate (she is also living with cerebral palsy) and the founder of LetCpKids Learn Initiative encouraged my husband and I to let her go back to school. She said we couldn’t hide her at home forever. Nimi had to learn independence.

I found a school near the house. The proprietress, teachers and pupils were welcoming. The first day Nimi got to school, the kids in her class gave her a welcome card.

Today, I am glad Nimi is in school. She is doing so well; she knows her numbers and she can read them backwards (from 100 -1), her alphabet sounds, addition, subtraction. She has started learning how to read. She answers questions in class. Nimi even takes part in extra curriculum activities. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t do it as well as other kids. Even if she is just part of the cheerleaders. It is inclusive education in the true sense of it and I see the benefits in Nimi every day.

Apart from Nimi having cerebral palsy and doing lots of therapy, she is just like any other kid, she loves to watch TV, play football, swim, eat spaghetti. Her best snack is cake and she drinks a lot of water.

If my husband and I had assumed that Nimi was unable to learn and didn’t educate her, we would never have realized her potentials. The fact that a child has cerebral palsy doesn’t necessarily mean that the child has intellectual disability. Even if the child cannot talk or use his or her hands, the child can still learn.
Nimi still has her therapies, she has not stopped but she also gets an education. We are not waiting for her to start walking or start using her hands or for her speech to be very audible.

If a school did not give Nimi the opportunity to learn, she may still be at home today, losing out on the benefits of going to a mainstream school with her peers.

I want to encourage school owners to embrace inclusive education. It is a great opportunity for every child.
I want to implore everyone to change their thinking about children who have neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, autism, down syndrome, and others. These are all medical conditions and not the aftermath of sin or witchcraft.

These children did not ask to be born this way. The least we can do is to show them love.
I have written some books to teach children about other children who are different from them in relation to disability. My hope is that this will change the narrative about disability in Nigeria.

Let’s Love Without Boundaries!

Watch a short documentary on Oluwalonimi, and the benefits of inclusive education here:

Love Without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: Guidelines for Inclusive Education

What you need to know before admitting that special needs child into your school.
The aim of this article is not to make inclusive education complex but to equip you for an interesting journey into the world of special education. Once your heart is open to receive children with physical or learning disabilities into your school, you will always find a way to meet their needs. It doesn’t matter if you have a lot of funds or not.

Also remember that the other students in the school would benefit from having a classmate who has special needs. How? You may ask. It teaches them about differences. It helps them to be creativity in their thinking, communication and social interaction. It helps them to show empathy towards others who have challenges.

When we, as parents and teachers get old, we will become dependent on our children to make some decisions for us. At this stage, it is said that we have special needs due to old age or ill health. Would we want our children to neglect us or lock us away? Let’s sow good seeds.

1. Assessment of the special needs child
The school needs to request for the medical diagnosis for the special needs child who is seeking admission. Kindly ask for an assessment report from a pediatric neurologist. A pediatric neurologist is a doctor that manages disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve and muscle affecting infants, children and adolescents. In Nigeria you can find one in a teaching hospital, a general hospital or a private hospital.
Please note, the child’s parents or a special needs educator cannot, and should not give a medical diagnosis. This can only be conducted and a report issued by a pediatric neurologist.
Getting a diagnosis is not to label the child but it is to better understand the medical condition of the child and to meet his or her needs appropriately.

2. Different diagnosis, different needs
A child’s medical diagnosis will determine the approach the school will take in meeting his/ her needs. The common developmental disorders include: Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and Learning disability.

• For children with cerebral palsy, their needs are oftentimes physical. This may include the need to have a suitable chair and table in the classroom, a stroller to move around the school compound and a personal care giver to assist with movement and other needs. However, this still depends on the severity or otherwise of each case. It is not every child with cerebral palsy that requires assistance in the classroom.

• For children with autism and ADHD, it is more of emotional and behavioural needs.

A child with autism may not understand how to handle social interaction and communication. While a child diagnosed with ADHD may have above-normal levels of hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. Therefore, this child may have issues with handling self-control. This also depends on the severity of each case.

• Children with Down Syndrome usually learn and progress more slowly than most children. Likewise this depends on each case.

• Learning disability is a very broad term. It can manifest in different ways in children. It can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math. It can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short-term memory and attention. This child may need extra lessons. This child may need a one on one attention in class.

3. A meeting with the child’s parents, therapist and care giver
A meeting should be scheduled (after the IEP (Individualised Educational Plan) has been done) for all parties involved to understand the needs of the child. It would also give the parents the opportunity to state their expectations about their child and the school to understand how they can come in and what they can and cannot do for the child. This is very important so that everyone is on the same page. This should also be reviewed at least twice a term, it may be more.

4. Working with other professionals
If the school doesn’t have special needs educators, it may be wise to seek counsel from other professionals.

• The child with special learning needs would need an IEP (Individualised Educational plan). The child would be assessed by a special needs educator to find out learning capabilities and needs. This would guide the class teacher on what the child can do and also set goals that are achievable for the child.

• A child living with autism or ADHD may require the services of a behavioral therapist; depending on the severity of the needs. This may just require that a trained learning assistant sits with the child in class. This will be to guide the special needs child during classes and to also correct inappropriate behavior.

• A child with speech impairment may require the services of a speech therapist. This may be an after-school therapy. As much as possible, it is better to reduce pull out sessions for the child during regular classes.

5. Flexibility in your approach of teaching
No one method fits every special needs child. What worked for A may not work for B. Take for example, autism. There are no two cases of autism that are exactly the same. Even where there are more than one sibling in a family living with autism the condition may be very different in its appearance. Be patient enough to study each child and learn how best to reach the child’s mind.

6. Pull-out room
A child living with autism or ADHD may find the normal classroom setting a bit cagey from time to time. It is wise to set up a pull-out room where the child can be taken to for him/her to calm down.

A pull-out room can simply be a soothing calm area where a child can relax and even play. This could also double as a sensory room. Another child may simply calm down by taking a walk around the school compound.

7. A therapy room /sensory room
Where a school can afford to have a therapy room, this would be useful for a 30- 45 minutes exercise for a child with disabilities. A sensory room is a special room designed to develop a person’s senses, usually through special lighting, music, and objects. It can be used as a therapy for children with limited communication skills.

8. Trained care givers
Depending on the severity of each case, trained care givers or learning assistants would help the child to cope in school and the teacher will not become overburdened.

9. Educate the students, their parents and the school staff
This cannot be over emphasized. Parents of children without special needs need to be properly educated before a school embraces inclusive education.

Students in the school also need to be given the right information. They are not to show pity in a derogatory way but to show love and acceptance.

10. Start with the number of children you can handle per time. Don’t get overwhelmed.

Dear Bukola,
I don’t have funds or space for some of the things you have mentioned above but I am open to try inclusive education in my school. What do I do?
I would say you should start with what you have. My daughter’s school doesn’t have all these things but they are doing a fantastic job. The most important thing is a heart of love and acceptance and you would find a way around it. My daughter has a trained caregiver that stays with her in school. She assists her so the class teacher is not overburdened. She also has her physiotherapy three times a week at home. Twice a week in the morning before going to school and on Saturday mornings. When she has physiotherapy on school days, she gets to school late but her teacher ensures she catches up with other kids by giving her extra time for her class work.

If she gets overwhelmed with everything happening around her, her care giver takes her to another room where she engages in a calming activity before going back to class.

Also note that for children in toddler classes, their main learning needs are alphabet sounds, numbers and nursery rhymes. Some schools may go a little further by teaching them about their environment and personal health. In this case, the class teacher can assess and go at the child’s pace. There is really no need for a special needs teacher unless the school can afford one.

Dear Bukola,
In line with all you have discussed, is there really a need for special schools?
Yes, there is a role for special schools. This would be discussed in the next article.
Till then, let’s love without boundaries.

Love Without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: For Truly Inclusive Education, No Child Should Be Left Behind

Inclusive education is no longer a strange word. Thankfully, more and more schools are now open to the idea. However, there are a few things you should know before admitting children with disabilities and special learning needs.

It is important to note that there is a difference between a child living with a disability and a child that has special educational needs. A child with any of these neurological disorders, autism, cerebral palsy, ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), Down Syndrome, may not have any form of special educational needs (which may include: learning disability or difficulty).

Special educational needs (SEN) is about education. While disability is about your body, your brain, your senses being wired and tapped in a unique way.

Taking it further, my daughter is 5 years old. She is unable to sit and stand unsupported. She cannot use her hands by herself and her speech is not very clear. This is because she has cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a movement disorder which affects the part of the brain that controls the muscles.

In spite of these disabilities, she participates in class. She is doing very well with her academics; her tests are done orally. She even participated in her school’s Spelling Bee even though we had to be patient with her to go at her own pace in pronouncing the words.

What helped my daughter was locating a school that was willing and open to make adjustments by becoming more accommodating. Secondly, the presence of a learning support (an assistant teacher/nanny) in the classroom and the provision of a chair with support.

When she started schooling at the age of two, she was in toddlers’ class. The primary learning focus of this class is, learning alphabet sounds, numbers and nursery rhymes. At that age, this form of learning is basic for most children; with or without disability. Even though my daughter could not talk at that age nor did she show any form assimilation, yet years later she proved to us that she was assimilating everything going on in her environment.

That is one of the reasons I would suggest to parents of children with disability to enroll their children at an early age. I would also implore schools not to reject children with disabilities. Mainstream education is one of the many early intervention programs that can help children with disabilities to make progress.
Babies are born ready to learn, and their brains develop through use. A child needs a stimulating environment with lots of different activities that give her plenty of ways to play and learn, and lots of chances to practise what she’s learning.

Research has shown that the first five years of life (especially the first three years) are a period of incredible growth in all areas of a child’s development – the things the child sees, hears, touches, smells and tastes – stimulate their brain, creating millions of connections. Therefore, early intervention (which includes mainstream education) is critical for a child with developmental disabilities.

The second thing I would love to explain is the difference between intellectual disability, learning disorder, learning disability and learning difficulties. It is pertinent to note that on the Internet there are different definitions which may be confusing. However, if you follow the simple explanation below it will become much easier to understand.

An intellectual disability describes below-average IQ and a lack of skills needed for daily living. This condition used to be called ‘mental retardation.’ People with intellectual disabilities can and do learn new skills, but they learn them more slowly. There are varying degrees of intellectual disability, from mild to profound. (Please note that in the UK, intellectual disability is used interchangeably with learning disability. For the purpose of this article, they will be differentiated.)

Learning disability is an umbrella term for a wide variety of learning problems. Some people use learning disability and learning disorder interchangeably. I would rather say that learning disorder is a type of learning disability. An example of a learning disorder is dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a condition that makes it hard to learn to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols. It happens when there is a problem with the way the brain processes graphic symbols.

The problem in dyslexia is a linguistic one, not a visual one. Dyslexia in no way stems from any lack of intelligence. People with severe dyslexia can be brilliant. Although it is a neurological condition, dyslexia is not linked to intelligence. It is not the result of poor teaching, instruction, or upbringing. They aren’t lazy or dumb. In fact, most are just as smart as everyone else. Their brains are simply wired differently. This difference affects how they receive and process information.

However, once you understand how to teach a child with this condition then learning becomes fun. Techniques usually involve tapping into the child’s senses, including touch, vision, and hearing. For example, you can activate such a child’s sense of touch by having her trace letters on a list of sight words with her fingers. The child may also cut the letters out on a sandy paper and have her trace the scratchy surface while saying out the letter names or the words. Have her write the word in the air with her pointer and middle finger and say it out loud.

A learning difficulty may simply mean that a child is not very good at a subject but with much effort, the right teacher, the right teaching method and constant practice this child can learn that subject to a good degree. A good example is my personal experience. I studied law because I just didn’t like numbers. However, the truth of the matter is that I have never truly dedicated enough time and effort to learn it. At the back of my mind I kept saying I don’t need it so I didn’t just bother to learn it.
In conclusion, having a physical or neurological disability is not synonymous with having an intellectual disability or a learning disability. Having a learning disorder or a learning disability doesn’t mean a child cannot go to school to learn with his or her peers. All that child may need is a different teaching method or assessment method.

Not having hands, e.g an amputee or not being able to use one’s hands, e.g. due to cerebral palsy or stroke doesn’t mean a child cannot go to school. My daughter’s case has taught me that no child should be left behind. All that may be needed is a little more patience in teaching and tests could be done orally.
A child with speech impairment can go to school, with a little patience, you can agree on other ways for this child to communicate his or her answers. As ridiculous as this may sound, if a child’s assessment is limited to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ the child may be required to blink or nod in a certain way to communicate his or her answer to a question.

Also remember that there are lots of assisted technology or simple communication boards that can help children with speech impairment. A communication board is a board with symbols or pictures that is used to facilitate communication for children with limited expressive language ability. Children communicate using the board by pointing and gesturing or gazing at the various symbols and pictures.

Indeed, if you have an open mind, you would always find a way to teach or reach out to that child in your classroom who needs a little extra help. With a heart of love, commitment and patience, no child would be left behind.

Love without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: Tips For Creating a Truly Inclusive School

Inclusive Education, as I have defined in my previous articles, simply means that all students attend and are welcomed by mainstream schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school.

Some school owners have approached me to find out how they can introduce inclusive education into their school system. I would say that the two key things in inclusive education is showing empathy and being open to embrace change.

When I was looking for a school for my daughter, Nimi, that was the main thing I was looking out for. I was looking out for a school that would show love and acceptance. A school that would be open to try something new.
Every morning while taking my second daughter to school, I would drive pass another school. I noticed that each morning when I drove by, there was a bus from an orphanage in front of the school that would drop off some kids. I was impressed by this. I said to myself, if this school could accept children from an orphanage then their empathy quotient may be higher than most.

I approached the school and spoke with the school owner. She was warm and welcoming. She told me she had admitted a child with autism in the past but she had never taken someone with cerebral palsy. She didn’t even have an idea about it but she said she was open to trying something new.
It was a Friday, I told her to do her research over the weekend and I would bring my daughter on Monday for a meeting so that she could get to meet her.

Truly she did her research and got some information about cerebral palsy and I filled in the gap. I brought my daughter for an interview and she accepted her.
I decided that my daughter will start with three times a week and I would see how it goes from there.
The day Nimi started school, her classmates presented her with a welcome handmade card. The proprietress told me that the week before Nimi resumed to the school, the teachers had taught the other children about differences, empathy and acceptance. Indeed, I was impressed.

Today, our three days experiment has paid off. Now, my daughter goes to school five times a week just like every other kid. She also takes part in extra curriculum activities. For me it doesn’t matter if she can’t do it as well as other kids, even if she is just among the cheerleaders, that’s okay. It is called social integration. The most important thing is we have achieved inclusive education, in the true sense of it.

To create an inclusive school, the following tips may come in handy:

1. The leadership of the school needs to get proper information. You do not necessarily need to go to a formal school to acquire this. You can have a chat with professionals on the field and also do your own research through reliable websites on the internet.

2. Train your teachers on how to work with children with disabilities or with special learning needs. You can liaise with companies, consultants and nonprofit organisations to accomplish this.

3. Teach the children about disability, accepting differences and showing empathy. This may be done through class reading time; the children can read story books with characters who have disabilities. Encourage them to ask questions and answer the questions truthfully as best as you can. It can also be done by creating a disability awareness day or including disability awareness into your diversity celebration day.

4. It is very important to educate the parents of your students before introducing inclusive education. This would be a better approach than introducing inclusive education then explaining your actions later on.

5. Create a handbook or a guide for all workers; both teachers and non-teachers. It is best to state out in full, what is expected from everyone in relation to your special needs students. It is also important to create a more robust missions statement so that no one is in doubt about what the school stands for. For example, you may want to introduce into your missions statement, equality, fairness and justice for all students.

6. The school may want to assess its building to determine how accessible it is for children with disability. The school may need to provide ramps for easy of using wheelchairs.

If the school is not designed to accommodate a lot of changes, this should not be a major issue because as long as you are open to experiment or to show empathy, there would always be a way around it.

I was told about a school in Lagos Nigeria where form 6 classes in a secondary school were located at the third floor of the school building. A young boy with cerebral palsy who could not walk was made to crawl on the staircase every morning when he got to school and in the afternoon when going home. He couldn’t even dare to come down at lunch time. Not forgetting that his uniform will get dirty every morning. The experience as a whole is dehumanising for anyone to go through that five times a week, twenty times a month.

I strongly believe that the leadership of that school, especially the principal has a wrong value system for human life. The least they could have done was to provide a stretcher for the boy to lie down and two men carry him to his class just like how wounded footballers are carried off the field. They could have even encouraged some of his classmates to help with carrying the stretcher thereby teaching them about helping others. The principal could also have moved one arm of class 6 to the ground floor.

7. The school may need to check out their restrooms and answer some cogent questions? Can this rest room accommodate a wheel chair? If not, can I have space for a changing table or bed? How do I get to monitor what goes on in the restroom? There have been some cases of caregivers molesting children with disabilities in the process of assisting them in the restroom. This brings me to the next point.

8. For schools that can afford this, it is wise to install CCTV all over the school and even in the open space of the restrooms (this is not inside the toilet cubicle itself). Where the CCTV is monitored and feedbacks are given to teachers, non-teaching staff and students, it will help to ensure that everyone is mindful of their actions.

This list is not exhaustive but like I have said earlier, the most important thing is showing empathy and a willingness to embrace change.

Inclusive education should be the goal of any right-thinking society who understands that we do not live in a perfect world. There are no special communities for teenagers or adults with special needs. The best time to integrate them into the society is at infancy. The best place to do so is in our mainstream schools.

Next article would talk about guidelines for admitting children with disabilities and how to create a conducive classroom experience for your special needs students.


Love without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: How to Achieve a Truly Inclusive Education System for Children with Disabilities

A few weeks ago, I spoke at a parents and teachers conference on promoting inclusive education. I told the teachers that in a few years’ time they would be required to obtain inclusive teaching skills to meet diverse students’ needs in their classrooms.

I told them that a time will come it would be a trend to have a child with special needs in their schools. This is because having special needs students in your classrooms will show the level of acceptance, creativity and technology advancement the school has to offer every child that attends their classes.
It will also prove to the parents that no child will be left behind with his/her studies. I encouraged the teachers to prepare for that day.

It may seem like this is farfetched but I must tell you that the world is gradually embracing inclusion.

Last year, I visited a public primary school in Lagos Mainland, Nigeria. The school accepts children with disabilities, so the school is referred to as an inclusive unit.

However, in reality, the school is anything but certainly not an inclusive unit.

What is Inclusive Education? According to Inclusive Education Guide for Families, it is:

  • One system of education for all
  • Individualised for each child or learner
  • It is child-centred, and listens to all perspectives
  • A system which meets the particular needs of every child
  • A system capable of modifying itself to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable
  • A system where every child has equal opportunity
  • It is not static, it’s a process which continually develops our understanding of how we can best accommodate each person.

The inclusive school I visited in Lagos mainland kept about 80 special needs children in two classes. During break time all the children in the regular classes came out to play but the special needs kids remained in their classrooms. The two classes had children with different disabilities, hearing impaired, cerebral palsy, learning disability and Autism. I wondered how they were been taught. The teachers are more focused at providing vocational skills than teaching numeracy and literacy. The teachers, I believe are trying their best but you can’t give what you do not have.

The inclusive unit has only one care giver, an elderly woman. They are short of well trained staff. As at the time of my visit, there were no trainers in their vocational room.
My question is this: what are the children learning?

If I am to attempt to answer this question, for that person that created the inclusive unit, the fact that the children can leave their houses in the morning and their parents can say they have gone to school is simply adequate.

You may say the children are treated this way because it is a public school but there are many private schools who run this model of teaching children with special needs—segregation. Some private mainstream schools collect lots of money from parents who have children with special needs on the claim that they are practicing inclusion. However, what the schools do not tell the parents is that their children are kept in a separate class away from their peers. The children are hidden in a classroom where visitors to the school cannot see them.

Some private schools only teach the children nursery rhymes and the kids are never promoted from that class.

What are the principles guiding Inclusive Education? According to Inclusive Education Guide for Professionals:

Diversity enriches and strengthens all communities
All learners’ different learning styles and achievements are equally valued, respected and celebrated by society
All learners to be enabled to fulfil their potential by taking into account individual requirements and needs
Support to be guaranteed and fully resourced across the whole learning experience
All learners need friendship and support from people of their own age
All children and young people to be educated together as equals in their local communities
Inclusive Education is incompatible with segregated provision both within and outside mainstream education.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 24 states:-
1. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education. With a view to realizing this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, States Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning directed to:

a. The full development of human potential and sense of dignity and self-worth, and the strengthening of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and human diversity;

b. The development by persons with disabilities of their personality, talents and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential;

c. Enabling persons with disabilities to participate effectively in a free society. (full text of article 24 can be found at appendix 1)

Therefore, I can boldly say that inclusive education is not what you do out of sympathy, nor what you pay lip service to. It is not what you do solely to generate another source of income but it is what you do because it is the fundamental right of every child living with disability to go to school with his or her peers.

Dear school owners,
Accepting children with special needs into your schools is not enough. We want our children to be truly included.