This centre in Himachal Pradesh plays a crucial role for kids with special needs
When it comes to children with disabilities, facilities are barely adequate in India. In rural parts, the situation is even worse. One such centre that is bringing hope to many kids is Handimachal Therapy Centre in Himachal Pradesh. It is the only place in the region that provides early intervention therapy to children with special needs.
The centre was started by Frenchwoman Dominique Dufau in 2009 and it works towards treating children with orthopedic impairments, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, speech and hearing impairments, developmental delays, and sensory processing disorders. About 90 children a year get the benefit of early intervention at the centre.
Stigma is a major barrier to seeking treatment for disability
During a visit to Himalayas, Dominique met a family in Kullu, who had a child with Down Syndrome. The family thought she was possessed by an evil spirit and were getting her treated by the local devta. In this region, there is a lot of stigma and people believe that they should do what the local devta tells them.
Eventually the family realised the child needed to be treated and the incident inspired Dominique to do something about the situation. The lack of intervention therapy facilities, moved her to start Handimachal Therapy Centre.
Today the centre has a team of nine people, which includes physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech educators, and community health workers. The centre also works with civil and regional hospitals in Kullu.
In the past seven to eight years, the centre has provided help to over 400 children, but creating awareness regarding therapy remains the biggest challenge. Accessibility is also an issue. Lack of proper infrastructure and the harsh climate makes it hard for parents to get their children to Handimachal for therapy.
Three years ago, the centre started a community-based rehabilitation programme, where trained health workers visit the houses of children who are older or live in remote places. The team is also planning to establish early intervention schools where children spend their entire day so teaching and therapy happen together.