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ESP Initiative Reaching More Special Needs Children

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The Early Stimulation Programme (ESP) has been improving its operations, through a Technical Co-operation Project, to better assist children with special needs.

The six-month initiative, which began in September 2012, and currently funded bythe Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), seeks to provide training for child development officersin five areas of child development – self help skills, cognitive, social, emotional, and language development.

Director of the ESP, Antonica Gunter-Gayle, informs JIS News that intervention of the programme has been extended to the Kingston 12 and 13 areas, so more children with special needs are being given attention.

“We are now seeing an additional 52 children with special needs in these areas, and instead of monthly visits, we have officers conducting visits on a weekly basis, to stimulate children with special needs,” she says.

Mrs. Gunter-Gayle notes that there are two components of the ESP, the home-based and centre-based programmes. Both programmes caterto children from birth to six years with challenges, such as cerebral palsy, autism, mental retardation; and children with various forms of mental and physical disabilities, and multiple disabilities.

She explains that the centre-based programme allows children with special needs to be schooled and given proper intervention in a structured environment.

For the home-based programme, children are visited by child development officers at their homes and schools, who are trained in special early childhood care and development.

“The officers take the intervention into the homes of these children, or into the communities. We provide additional support, because some of the children are already attending schools, which does not require us to take them out of their learning environment, so the intervention officers try to meet them where they are,” Mrs. Gunter-Gayle points out.

She reveals that the home-based programme currently has a population of 1,212 children, and the centre-based has 112 children enrolled, which means that more children with special needs are being given the opportunity of reaching their fullest potential.

The Director mentions that the strengthening of the programme is a step towards a brighter future for parents of children with special needs, and importantly, children with disabilities.

“The children are benefitting greatly from this initiative, because there is a need for early intervention, and the additional training being offered to social development officers, allows for greater intervention. We have also extended our hours of intervention, and are offering extra physical therapy to children who are severely disabled, especially those with cerebral palsy,” she says.

Parents of children with special needs are also being introduced to different coping mechanisms and strategies, to better assist disabled children, because they play a vital role in their overall development.

She adds that these children are a part of the society, and should be given equal opportunities, especially ‘the right to an education’.

“Gone are the days when children with disabilities are ignored, and treated as outcasts. We are now seeing disabled persons serving in capacities such as cashiers, telephone operators, computer technicians, and successful entrepreneurs. If we continue to stimulate them from birth, they will have the opportunity to excel in all their endeavours, and contribute to nation building,” Mrs. Gunter-Gayle said.

She is appealing to organisations and individuals that can assist the ESP, whether in cash or kind, to call 922-5585, or visit their office at 95 Hanover Street, in downtown Kingston.

 More than 30,000 children have benefited from the ESP since its inception.

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