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.


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: 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.


Love without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: Why are You Afraid of a Child with Disability?

In my quest to understand better the concept of inclusive education, I did a little research and discovered that in Denmark and some other European countries, inclusive education is seen as developing a school for everyone.
There is a national strategy for the implementation of inclusive education. Learners are seen as diverse individuals, and everyone can get support in their own studying group. Classrooms are therefore very diverse. Teacher education has also been redesigned to support the implementation of inclusive education. In Denmark, diversity is seen as a resource for development, and inclusive education as a means to address the challenges. I will discuss further about this in subsequent articles on how to run an effective inclusive school.

Last month, I had the opportunity to speak with a mum who has a six year old daughter living with cerebral palsy. She complained that she had been trying to get a school that her daughter could attend without success. A school agreed to accept her daughter. Her daughter spent only one week at the school before she was asked to withdraw her. When the mother asked what happened, she was told that another mother who had three neuro-typical children (children developing normally) in the school threatened to remove her three children if the six years old girl was not asked to leave the school. Presently, this little girl is at home.

I have seen some children who have been asked to leave school because they can’t use their hands or talk. My daughter, Nimi is unable to use her hands and she doesn’t talk clearly, but she attends school and she does so well academically. It saddens me to see other children in her shoes who are denied the opportunity of going to school based on their physical challenges.

It is true that some schools do not have the requisite knowledge on handling children with disabilities. However, the easiest way to start is to have an open mind and to show empathy. There are non-profit organisations that train teachers on how to teach and manage children with additional needs. There is a lot of information on the internet.

Some schools that are willing to accept children with disabilities face opposition from other parents who do not have children with disabilities. I understand the fact that most schools are for profit making and would therefore make decisions that would protect their revenue. Often times these decisions involve withdrawing the admission of a child with disabilities. I have been told it is a sacrifice the school has to make so it doesn’t close down.

My question today is this: as a parent of a neuro-typical child (a child without disabilities) what are you afraid of? What are your fears? Why do you find it uncomfortable to have children who have disabilities attend the same school with your children?

I have heard statements such as ‘how can abnormal children be in the same class with normal children? Some parents call children with disabilities demons. My question is, have you seen a demon before? What does it look like? Disabled?
The Bible says that the head of demons was one of the most gorgeous creature God made. His appearance was beautiful and dazzling. He was covered with every precious stone: gold, sardius, topaz, diamond, beryl, onyx, jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle.

Does that sound anything lower than perfection? Certainly not.
I have been to deliverance churches and I have seen beautiful sisters and brothers roll on the floor and manifest different spirits under the anointing. A child doesn’t need to have disability to be under strange influence.
Some parents say they do not like their children to associate with children that drool. The fact is I do not understand how the saliva will touch another child. Secondly, saliva is not poisonous. Thirdly, neuro-developmental disorder is not infectious in any way. It is a brain disorder, usually occurs at birth or early years of a child’s life.

Then permit me to pose this question: if in the future you become ill, let’s say stroke or Alzheimer’s disease would you prefer your child to abandon you or hide you in a room? You may say it is not your portion, but I have come to understand that the world is not a perfect place. I believe no one dreams of growing up to become dependent on others neither does anyone pray to have a child with disability.

Last month while speaking to a 21 years old girl living with a learning disorder and cerebral palsy, she immediately tried to cover her face. I told her not to apologise for who she is because she was not given an opportunity to choose her life; if she had, I bet she would have chosen to look like Agbani Darego.

On the other hand, which we are not too patient to discover, having children living with disabilities in our schools have benefits that cannot be overemphasized. It brings creativity into the classroom. The teacher may need to introduce creative ways to teach the child with special needs. Whatever method she comes up with will benefit other children who may be having difficulties in some subjects. The children will also make creative ways to speak or play with their disabled classmate. They will understand early that life is not perfect. They will learn to accept differences, show love and empathy to people especially those who are venerable.

The children we are shielding away from special needs children are the future leaders who would become doctors and scientist that would champion the search for a cure for developmental disorders. They are the future public workers who will make laws that would improve the welfare of people living with disabilities. They would ensure that people with disabilities have access into all public buildings. They would build roads and pedestrian bridges having in mind that physically challenged people will also use them. They will provide buses that have ramps and give concession to people with disability. They will provide parking spaces for disabled people that are close to the entrance of buildings. They will manage organisations that would employ people living with disabilities. They will pastor churches that speak to their congregations about loving their neighbours who have children that have disabilities.

Remember, not everyone is born with a disability some other people acquire a disability through their journey in life. No one knows tomorrow. Let’s make the world a better place for everyone.