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Judy Newman featured in Indian news site

The article below was published March 31, 2014 in The Hindu, one of the largest English-language news outlets in India.

Early intervention hastens progress of special children, says expert

Staff Reporter

   S.S. Kumar
Early intervention expert Judy interacts with special children at Satya Special School in Puducherry.— Photo: S.S. Kumar

Even before she named her daughter Dharunika, Sharada knew her baby would need special care. While her husband’s family abandoned her, Sharada acted on the advice of her doctors and put the child with cerebral palsy, on therapy. After three years of rehabilitation, Dharunika can pronounce the alphabets, though less distinctly, than her friends in preschool.

Early intervention or starting special services as early as birth or within six years for children with disabilities and developmental delays is being stressed increasingly, though there are few resources available locally.

A MoU signed between Early Childhood Care Centre and Satya Special School through Sri Aurobindo International Centre for Education plans to set up a sustainable model for early intervention services that can also spark off similar ideas from other schools in the city.

“There are at least six long-term studies following up the progress of children who have received early intervention, some of them, right up to adulthood,” says Judith Newman, founder and co-director of the Early Intervention Centre, Oregon University, one of the pioneering early intervention service providers in the U.S.

“Studies have shown that children who receive early intervention learn skills faster require less special services, graduate at a higher rate, find meaningful employment and earn higher wages than those who have not benefited from such intervention,” Ms. Newman says.

She has been drawing from her 30 years of experience in the field to train therapists and teachers in Puducherry. “Research has shown that brain cells responsible to vision, hearing and tactile senses are developing at this age. This is an ideal period to work with children as the results are much more effective,” she adds.

But, India faces the kind of situation that prevailed in America 20 years ago when government funding for early intervention programmes was rare. What changed? “The attitude of people and the opinion of doctors who are often the first contact with the special child,” explains Ms. Newman.

But this was possible only with two things — evidence-based studies as doctors are persuaded only by evidence and availability of special services. Today, the American Academy of Paediatrics has also come up with a set of best practices for children identified with special needs.

In a scenario where resources are limited (early intervention, often requires individual care) decentralisation of services could play a major role, says Chitra Shah, director, Satya. “If parents are involved and play the role of co-therapist, helping with activities like sensory integration at school and home, the intervention is more effective,” says Ms. Newman.