Children don't know barriers: How Mateo's inclusion is creating a world of difference
Expert support from an early age is key for children with disabilities
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“Mateo is great!” This what his friends, pupils of second grade at elementary school in Čakovec, think of Mateo, who we met two years ago at kindergarten in Čakovec. Everybody who knows him, describes Mateo as a kind and smart boy. Thanks to cross-sectoral cooperation and support by experts, Mateo was first diagnosed with a hearing disability upon enrolment in kindergarten. He then received expert help which he and his family are benefiting from to this day. Meanwhile, he started school and is doing well, thanks mostly to support of his sign language interpreter who helps with classes and in communication with the teacher and his classmates.
Mateo’s teacher Tanja Žganec started working in his class this school year, and even though Mateo is her first pupil who cannot hear, she is learning sign language and successfully communicates with Mateo.
“Of course, none of this would be possible without the help of his sign language interpreter, thanks to her I did not have to adapt the course of the class. When I came to school, a few months ago, they were functioning as a group. Children don’t know big barriers in language, not even in sign language. They quickly find ways to communicate. Mateo is such a warm person, he is one of them, they are all friends”, explains Tanja Žganec. Mateo is, she continues, a cheerful pupil who enjoys learning.
“Mateo is a cheerful person. He is intellectually a strong child so there are no problems in his education”, concludes Žganec..
Tatjana Trupković, sign language interpreter, has been spending time and working with Mateo since he was three years old.
“I grew fond of Mateo right from the start, we really bonded. He is a great boy. I did not expect he would adapt to school so quickly and easily, but he understands the lessons right away, he is well focused, has no problems with exams and has good grades”, she says and adds how the biggest challenge for them currently is English class because she has to translate it to Croatian sign language so that takes some extra time, certainly longer than classes in Croatian language.
Every day when Mateo comes to school she meets him at the entrance, and they come in together.
“I encourage him to greet school staff members and pupils. If we have music class, we play at different instruments while others sing – he likes that, he loves percussion; he can even recognize high pitches and frequencies. He plays by notes, we have learned that”, Tatjana explains.
We witnessed Mateo’s love for music while the teacher played a song to which Mateo started dancing along with the rest of the class.
Expert support from the early age is key to development of every child, especially children with disabilities. Mateo’s father, Robert Krajner confirms that and says how Tatjana, Mateo’s sign language interpreter has become like a family member over the years.
“She is always here for us, and we are grateful for having her. Without her Mateo would have had a really hard time following classes and starting communication with his teacher and friends at school”, says his Dad.
Mateo still visits MURID weekly, where he has social skills training. Twice a week they also go to SUVAG Polyclinic for rehabilitation, hearing and speech exercises and to Croatian sign language classes at Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences. All this brings results.
“Through the exercises of hearing and speech at SUVAG he started talking and producing noises, and he even responds to some sounds. Mateo is great, smart, and kind. He has this kindness in him. He loves football, collects stickers, goes to gymnastic twice a week. Really, he is a kid to wish for, and I’m not just saying it because he is my son. We spend time together, go on fieldtrips, at home we play games, we play football. Mateo likes to read a lot, so we read books together”, explains Robert.
Mateo told us he loves football and would like to be a football player when he grows up. His favourite player is Ronaldo.
“My favourite school subject is Math. I like everything about school, my friends and my teacher”, Mateo tells us and adds how, besides classes at school, he loves to play outside with his friends.
His sign language interpreter, and friend Tatjana helps him a lot, along with his teacher Tanja and his friends.
With the main aim of reducing child poverty and social exclusion for all children across the European Union, the European Commission, in partnership with UNICEF, is implementing "Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee" pilot-program in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Germany, Italy, Lithuania and Spain.
Croatia was given the opportunity to pilot programme Testing of the EU Child Guarantee, in cooperation with the European Commission and UNICEF, to work on solving child poverty and social exclusion. To develop new service models and best practices for children and their families, UNICEF will use its experience, partnerships and capacities by modeling integrated multidisciplinary, adequately funded family and community services in Medjimurje County, a region with limited access to child protection and family support services. UNICEF's approach includes three components: access to integrated child protection and family support services, access to early childhood education and access to integrated and coordinated early childhood intervention services.
© UNICEF, 2022 “The information and views set out in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.”
MURID is implementing partner of UNICEF Croatia for the pilot programme “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia”, funded by the European Union.