Children with special needs: “To be not worse than others!”
Roman is a 14-year-old boy living with a mild form of infantile cerebral palsy (ICP). He can move on his own, but rather slowly; he has only one hand that works properly. After studying at home for some time, the boy currently attends a public school. He lives with his mother in Donetsk.
Every child deserves to grow up in a loving and caring family and to develop fully. Tetiana Stryuk-Uldanova, coordinator of the charitable foundation, Our Home – Ukraine-2005, says that children with disabilities often come from single-parent families, having only a mother or a father. It is an extremely rare case when children with a diagnosis similar to Roman’s have both parents. In the majority of cases they are simply abandoned by parents and live in institutions.
Roman has a keen interest in football and often watches other boys playing in the yard. However, most football teams do not accept sick children on their teams. Children with special needs in Ukraine are at particularly high risk of abandonment, social stigma and discrimination, and they seldom have an opportunity to study with other children in a regular school. At the same time children with disabilities may still have very responsible parents. They receive tiny financial assistance from the government and have to work hard to earn their living, but they still find time to spend with their kids, at least during the weekends.
Volunteers from the foundation organized a small football team for boys like Roman who try to play the game as best they can. Tetiana believes this is the way to overcome psychological barriers, and it helps children with ICP to develop physically: “It is essential for them to act this way, and to be no different from healthy kids.” Moreover, some call Donetsk “the capital of Ukrainian football and everyone – young and old – is attracted to the game.
Tetiana says that even visiting girls with Down’s syndrome, she finds they love to play with others, even if they are not aware of the game’s rules, Children with disabilities do their best not to lag behind the others: for them it is an opportunity to feel themselves the same as others, as a part of the greater society, and to be valued.
The social worker emphasizes that there is an enormous deficit of qualified specialists capable of supporting children with ICP in rehabilitation, and the government fails to ensure adequate financing of such activities. Only true enthusiasts, ready to work for very low salaries and particularly responsible parents are likely to work with disabled children in Donetsk: “This is a titanic job, which goes beyond explaining something to children. You have to do exercises with them, to know how to do it and to be willing to do it”, she added.
UNICEF cooperates with government and civil society and emphasizes equal rights and opportunities for all children, disregarding their health conditions. The priority in helping children with special needs is the development of comprehensive preventive and early intervention services, which help to minimize and, in some cases, even prevent development delays and disabilities among young children. This decreases stigmatisation, prevents institutionalisation of these children and expands opportunities for children with special needs. At the same time UNICEF urges social inclusion and provision of better opportunities for children with disabilities in Ukraine.