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: 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: 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.