World Teachers’ Day: Alumna innovates to help children with special needs during COVID-19
Posted: 4 October 2020
COVID-19 has affected all of us but has had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable groups, such as special needs children and their families. For children with developmental challenges, loss of social contact and changes in routines can be particularly intense. In response, Australia Awards alumna Nurunnahar Nupur is using digital technology to support such children in Bangladesh.
Nupur is the Managing Director / Founder of ‘Positive Thinking’ in Bangladesh, a school for children with special needs. As an occupational therapist, Nupur is helping children with disability and their families to adapt to the changes and maintain their wellbeing during the pandemic.
After being affected by polio as a toddler, Nupur developed reduced walking tolerance, a physical disability. She faced discrimination and many challenges growing up with this condition. These experiences motivated her to improve her knowledge and skills so that she could provide support to other people with disability in Bangladesh. Nupur saw an Australia Awards Scholarship as her opportunity to work towards creating a more inclusive world. Her Scholarship enabled her to complete a Master of Education with a focus on Special Education from Flinders University in 2019.
“I feel proud to be a female with a disability from Bangladesh with a degree in inclusive education from Australia,” Nupur says.
“The Scholarship provided me with the tools, knowledge and networks to effectively advocate for inclusiveness and for mainstreaming special needs children into regular schools. I now feel more confident to campaign for the education of special needs children and to support other educators.”
Lockdowns and school closures across Bangladesh in March 2020 meant that children with special needs could not access necessary instruction and therapy. Nupur’s experience from managing Positive Thinking made her acutely aware of the immediate and severe impact that this could have on the mental health of these children. She was concerned that the disruption may have long-term adverse effects. Some children can exhibit hyperactivity or aggressive behaviour when there are unexpected changes in their everyday routines. Nupur noticed that the parents and other family members of these children were also experiencing elevated anxiety and stress. This motivated Nupur to find a way to help both the children and their families during this time.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the daily life of the children,” Nupur explains. “I realised that there was an opportunity to provide telehealth services to my clients—the children and their families—and still comply with physical distancing and safety protocols.”
She started providing consultations online and over the telephone, helping “parents to set up home-schooling solutions so they can provide learning opportunities to their children during COVID-19 lockdowns”. Nupur is also conducting online classes for Positive Thinking’s students and sharing useful ideas with their parents about home-based care for children with developmental needs.
In addition to providing telehealth services, Nupur is promoting personal hygiene and safety for children with special needs, focusing on handwashing, safety and physical distancing.
She is a strong advocate of play-based learning and says children learn best when the experience is enjoyable. Nupur emphasises that “a child’s therapy must match their routine at home and the parents should have appropriate skills needed to support their long-term development”. She encourages parents to engage their children in creative activities such as playing a musical instrument, drawing, crafting or painting. This helps to reduce children’s feelings of isolation and increase their ability to better manage their daily activities.
Nupur has also developed a video in the local language to assist parents in teaching their children about personal hygiene and a healthy lifestyle. She has appeared on national television programs and online talk-shows as an authority on these topics.
Her Australian education enabled Nupur to acquire up-to-date knowledge in her field of expertise. She can now share this knowledge with caregivers and parents of children with special needs from all over Bangladesh. “Many families [in Bangladesh] are feeling blessed to receive contemporary interventions [that are] practised in Australia,” says Nupur. “I am now more confident to lead and implement new activities with communities and to increase awareness about the rights of persons with disabilities.”
Once the pandemic is restrained, Nupur wants to organise an intensive training program for parents and teachers. She has a plan to implement projects to increase awareness of disability and improve accessibility and inclusion of people with disability in recreational activities. In Bangladesh, most children with disability go to specialised and separate schools. The pandemic exposed the pre-existing inequalities and made Nupur realise that there is a need to pursue mainstreaming of children with disability in regular classes, and to increase community awareness of the rights of these children.
Nupur is determined to work towards greater inclusion for children with special needs. “The COVID-19 pandemic has taught me to live a meaningful, responsible and happy life. I might not [be able to] help everyone, but I can help someone,” she says. “We will survive this pandemic together by helping each other.”