Amar Seva Sangam’s programme for disabled kids to be scaled up in more TN districts
The remarkable success of an early intervention programme for disabled kids in Tamil Nadu’s Titunelveli district is getting attention from the state government as well as international organisations. The programme has been started by the NGO Amar Seva Sangam and it is being recognised with the prestigious Zero Project Inclusive Education Award at the United Nations in Vienna this month.
Early intervention makes a remarkable difference in the lives of children with disabilities. One strong sign of this is the evidence-based study by Tamil Nadu NGO Amar Seva Sangam, Ayikudi (ASSA). A study done by ASSA shows that school enrolment rate of disabled children rose from 69% to 85% when they received early intervention therapy.
ASSA conducted the study in partnership with the University of Toronto and McGill University, Canada. The study looked at the outcome of ASSA’s Village-Based Early Intervention and Rehabilitation Programme that covered 1,152 children with disabilities in Tirunelveli. The programme was funded and supported by Grand Challenges Canada, Handi-Care Intl., Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiative and the Harvard Centre for the Developing Child.
Early intervention means greater integration of disabled kids
The ASSA programme uses a digital application to connect community rehabilitation workers with rehabilitation specialists to provide early intervention therapy to children with delayed development. This has helped improved their development and increased their participation and integration in schools and society.
ASSA began its intervention in October 2014 in the district of Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. Over 2,500 Anganwadi workers, village health nurses and community rehabilitation workers have been trained to screen for delayed development. Fifty-thousand children under the age of six years were screened and 2.1% prevalence rate of developmental disabilities was found.
Larger attitudinal change seen after intervention
Awareness camps have also been organised to enable a larger attitudinal change. Over 35,000 people in the surrounding communities now show improved knowledge about child development, early intervention therapies and reduced stigma. There is also greater engagement with rates of therapy attendance by disabled children improving from 60% in 2017 to 95% in 2019. ASSA’s study found that the severity of disability and the lack of early intervention were the two primary reasons preventing disabled children from attending schools. The lowest enrolment was seen among children with cerebral palsy, especially those with greater motor severity and cognitive impairment.
Disability is a major barrier to access to education in India. According to a 2016 study in the Lancet, there are more than 52.9 million children under the age of 5 in the world living with a disability, with 12 million in India and 100,000 in Tamil Nadu. There is an urgent need to address this issue with quality early intervention to support children in the development of physical, cognitive, emotional, sensory, behavioural, social and communication capabilities and skills. This would increase inclusion and participation of those children in schools and society. – S. Sankara Raman, Secretary, Amar Seva Sangam, Ayikudi
S Ramakrishnan, Founder-President, ASSA and 2020 Padma Shri winner, says the programme can be replicated elsewhere. “This programme is an excellent model for adoption by other NGOs and governments, both in India and abroad.”
To share its experiences and to highlight other successful early intervention models worldwide, the ASSA is organising an International conference this month. The success of this programme has encouraged the Tamil Nadu government to scale it up. It is funding ASSA to expand it to cover the entire Tirunelveli district as well as Tenkasi and Tuticoirn starting April 2020. The government hopes to help over one lakh children with disabilities.