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The importance of early detection — the case of Jordan

Nine-year-old Sahar is a third-grader in preparatory school in Jordan. She has lots of friends and a ready smile — and a hearing aid.

When she was an infant, Sahar was wrongly diagnosed as suffering from mental disability as well as hearing problems. As a result, she was not allowed to interact with other children. Her family neither invested in her development nor provided her with proper nutrition.

Sahar is a living example of the importance of detecting disabilities early in a child’s life. Since 1993, the Community-based Rehabilitation (CBR) programme has worked closely with parents, teachers and community volunteers in Al-Mafraq, the expansive northern territory in Jordan, to change attitudes towards disabilities. Parents learn to recognize disabilities and seek help for their children, teachers are especially trained, young women volunteers are recruited to work closely with young children with disabilities and community members assume administrative responsibilities for the programme.

The CBR project is part of national efforts to support ‘better parenting’ in homes, where three quarters of Jordan’s children are cared for, by increasing the knowledge and skills of all caregivers concerning child rights and the physical, emotional and psychological needs of the child.

Whereas previously children had their disabilities either wrongly diagnosed, like Sahar, or even hidden due to a ‘culture of shame’, there has been a marked change in areas where the CBR project is in place. Parents of children with disabilities now inform and seek assistance from committees set up to help them. Schools integrate children with disability into their classes. And a 1997 survey showed that 80 per cent of the local population’s attitudes towards the rights of people with special needs had changed for the better.

And what about the other 20 per cent? They said they already believed that the disabled had rights in the community, but CBR had strengthened those beliefs.


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