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July 1, 2004

Early care vital for the deaf

From: Calcutta Telegraph, India - Jul 1, 2004


Chennai, July 1: Early detection and treatment is crucial for the rehabilitation of the hearing-impaired, said experts at a workshop here. Nearly three lakh Indians below 14 are estimated to suffer from deafness.

A study of 35 deaf children in Chennai has shown that children on whom treatment was started three months after birth "achieved near normal skills in verbal communication as early as 18 months", according to a paper presented at the workshop attended by ENT specialists, speech therapists, principals of special schools for the hearing-impaired and NGO representatives.

To facilitate the rehabilitation of deaf children, the Mumbai-based Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for Hearing Handicapped has established early-intervention centres at Mumbai, New Delhi, Calcutta, Bhubaneswar, Thiruvananthapuram, Hyderabad and Pondicherry to enable children from the cities and rural areas in their vicinity to attend the programmes.

Saraswathy Narayanaswamy, the director of Balavidyalaya, a school for the hearing- impaired, quoted the National Sample Survey to show that 1.8 per cent of the country's population — 18.49 million — "are disabled". The survey also states that 55 per cent of the hearing-disabled are "illiterate and about 9 per cent complete secondary education", she pointed out.

An estimated 25,000 "are born every year with hearing impairment" across India, but only 0.4 per cent get the benefit of early intervention programmes, said Narayanaswamy. There is a "real dearth of research in the field of early intervention", she asserted.

The director said there was a lot of information on coping with the problems of hearing-impaired children but "what we really do not know is how to do it", comparing the situation to learning "swimming through a correspondence course". To handle such children, good, replicable teaching models that factor in the cooperation of parents are needed, she said.

Balavidyalaya has developed, in association with the Ali Yavar Jung National Institute, one-hour video cassettes and CDs on 20 activities at home "that can be done by parents to give language inputs to hearing-impaired children and make them speak", Narayanaswamy said.

"You can make children talk in that fashion and get them integrated into regular schools," Narayanaswamy added.

The cassettes and CDs have been made in English and Tamil and the institute could get it translated into other Indian languages, she said.

Dr Priti Taneja, vice-president of the Indore-based Institute of Hearing Impaired and Resource Centre, highlighted the enormous money constraints faced by parents of affected children in rural Madhya Pradesh in bringing their wards to special schools.

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