Autism is a disorder that comes as an unfortunate situation for parents and the individuals who suffer from it. It is debatable whether such births can be avoided, but the fact remains a fact for those who are born with autistic syndrome or develop it at a later stage. The responsibility of an inclusive society is to include children with autism into society’s mainstream and “make them able to develop their skills and realise their full potential,” as suggested by Unicef in one of its reports.
The Sultanate of Oman has been proactively taking up the cause of children with autism through government initiatives and private participation — current numbers and projections indicate some 27,300 cases between 2020 and 2030.
In line with the Oman Vision, 2040 wherein one of the major pillars of education is inclusion, a group of like-minded people have gotten together and started an inclusive school where children with autism and other difficulties are allowed to study alongside mainstream children, so they have better chances to acquire more skills than those who study in schools meant exclusively for special children.
“Inclusive education is the most effective way to give children with a broad range of learning difficulties a fair chance to go to school, learn and develop the skills they need to become a part of mainstream society. Inclusive education means all children are in the same classrooms, in the same schools. It means real learning opportunities for groups who have traditionally been excluded. Inclusive systems value the unique contributions students of all backgrounds bring to the classroom and allow diverse groups to grow side by side, to the benefit of all,” said Mahesh Verma, who has been in the Sultanate of Oman since 1985 and helped start Paradise Valley School.
Through this initiative, he wants to give back to the country that he now calls his home, something that was essentially required. He thus started the institution, an inclusive bi-lingual school with an international curriculum that is offering education to mainstream children and to those with learning difficulties, where all students are nurtured to achieve their best, regardless of their background or levels of ability.
“At Paradise Valley, we are proud that our vision of inclusiveness along with the concept of the Five areas of development — cerebral, physical, social, emotional and ethical — are fully aligned with the Sultanate of Oman’s objectives,” he said. The idea is to retain the children with special needs in the learning process as much, and as long as possible. “Due to certain constraints, children with disabilities are often overlooked in policymaking, limiting their access to education and their ability to participate in social, economic and political life. Worldwide, these children are among the most likely to be out of school. They face persistent barriers to education stemming from discrimination, stigma and the routine failure to incorporate disability in-school services,” said Sayyid Mohammed bin Badar al Busaidy, Chairman of the School Board and is known for his social commitment for the betterment of society. With Pallavan Learning Systems as their academic partner, Paradise Valley has the expertise and core competence to support other schools that impart education to Special Children and who may want to use the experience and knowledge of the team of Special Educators and therapists that Paradise Valley currently has. Commenting on the appeal the institution is having in the country, Verma said, “We are happy that corporates like Renaissance Services have supported the school and Esharaqa — the CSR arm of Khimji Ramdas — are sponsoring children with difficulties through the ‘Association of Early Intervention for Children with Disability and these children will start coming to Paradise Valley from early February.”
Verma, however, appeals for greater participation from everyone to address one of the major issues that relate to a section of children and their parents. “Any delay in supporting these children with learning difficulties may have a serious impact on their emotional wellbeing and how with the right support and education, these children have the potential to thrive and build futures filled with opportunities. While we are doing our very best to raise awareness and provide the necessary support, we are requesting the community to join us to support inclusive education,” said Verma in an impassioned appeal.