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Students with Disabilities are Facing Difficulties in Adjusting to COVID-19 Rules

Weeks after Kenyan schools re-opened following nine months of closure during the coronavirus pandemic, teachers, workers and administrators are struggling to enforce adherence to measures laid down by the government to stop the spread of the virus.

Schools have reported that special needs students with autism spectrum disorder and cerebral palsy, as well as other conditions, are yet to resume school in huge numbers. Speaking to The Nation, Phanice Musima, a headteacher at Nile Road Special School in Nairobi said that out of 311 students, only 150 had returned to class.Musima said parents and guardians of special needs in the school had been calling to seek assurance that measures had been put in place to ensure the safety of the children from the virus.


Bigger Challenges

The headteacher said the challenges facing the special needs students were bigger when it comes to following the strict measures. For instance, those who drool cannot be able to completely cover their mouths and noses with face masks. Students with hearing impairments, who largely depend on lip-reading and sign language, are having challenges in communication as the ministry of Education is yet to provide them with transparent face masks.

“We have challenges teaching the learners and often prefer total communication that involves lip reading and gestures. The pandemic has compelled us to alter our mode of operation,” the headteacher of BL-Tezza Special School in Migori County told the newspaper.

Another major challenge is the inability by students to understand the importance of following the COVID-19 preventive measures.“The main challenge is that some of them are mentally impaired and do not understand what wearing a mask is all about,” a parent at Matungu Special Needs School said. These sentiments were echoed by Jane Kiplagat, the headteacher of Mindiliwo Primary School for Autistic and Mentally Challenged in Elgeyo Marakwet County; “the learners are used to hugging and not wearing face masks and they are now faced with the uphill task of coping with new health measures.”

Government data indicates that as of 2019, there are at least 3,430 special needs education teaching primary education institutions and 114 special needs education institutions teaching secondary education. The conditions and why it would be difficult to adjust to new ways of learning. Data by the Autism Society of Kenya estimates that autism could be up to 4 percent or one autistic child for every 25 children.The Society’s estimates therefore mean that the prevalence of the condition could be higher than the global average of 1 in every 160 children.

According to the World Health Organization, Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder that impairs one’s ability to communicate and interact.It refers to a range of conditions characterized by some degree of impaired social behavior, communication and language, and a narrow range of interests and activities that are both unique to the individual and carried out repetitively. Data on the prevalence of cerebral palsy in the country is also unavailable.The condition is described as a group of disorders that cause problems with movement, balance, posture, and muscle tone.

Symptoms include poor coordination, muscles that are weak or stiff, and tremors. A child with cerebral palsy may have problems with sensation, vision, hearing, swallowing, and speaking.These are just but a few of the conditions that special needs students may have, and already reveal why it could be a challenge to strictly follow the government’s guidelines of learning amid COVID-19.


Author: Margaret Njuguna



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