The results of a yearlong research study on children with intellectual disabilities in Cambodia—the first of its kind in the country—was presented in Phnom Penh at a workshop Wednesday.
More than 300 individuals participated in the study and the findings ranged from the discrimination faced by intellectually disabled children to challenges parents experience, said Jennifer Carter, researcher with NGO Hagar and one of the speakers at Wednesday’s event.
Because parents of intellectually disabled children reported their biggest challenge is merely caring for their child, “a strong argument for the need for further training of parents and service providers” is called for, states the report. Forty percent of parents interviewed responded that they do not have the time to earn money when they are busy focusing on and caring for their disabled child.
Societal perceptions were also addressed in the report. Fourteen out of 14 service providers stated that there is discrimination against intellectually disabled children. Discrimination includes name-calling, exclusion from activities, and even ill treatment by family members.
Hagar commissioned the study in January 2008 and was later joined and supported by the Komar Pikar Foundation, Unicef, New Humanity, and many other NGOs, Ms Carter said. Last month, the study was signed by Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng, she added.
“This study is the first step,” Ms Carter told the workshop, adding that the research study was conducted in nine provinces that already have NGOs there that cater to disabled children. She added that at present it is impossible to say how many intellectually disabled children there might be in Cambodia.
With information gathered about the problems parents, service providers, and the children face, the report also offers recommendations on how these difficulties can be alleviated. One recommendation is for NGO staff to train local authorities to identify children with intellectual disabilities in order to place them in non-formal education or special education. Another recommendation was for the early detection of disabilities because over half of disabilities in Cambodia are preventable if treated, the report said, citing a 2004 report from the World Health Organization.
Ms Carter told the forum that in the fight to address the difficulties faced by disabled people, intellectual disabilities are often ignored.
“I would like to see intellectual disability have a rightful place in the disability sector,” she said.
According to the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, an intellectual disability is defined as: “a disability characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills, originating before the age of 18.” An intellectual disability can be genetic or developed by societal impacts, and can include different disabilities such as Down syndrome, autism, or cerebral palsy, said Ms Carter. She added that in Cambodia, “many cases of cerebral palsy occur because of the result of high fevers.”
Speaking on the sidelines of the workshop, Cristina Togni, program adviser for the disabled sector of New Humanity Cambodia, said that NGOs have been working hard towards helping children with special needs, but that is not enough.
“We need more involvement from the government,” she added.
New Humanity has rehabilitation centers in Kompong Chhnang and Kandal provinces that care for intellectually disabled children through referral services, physical therapy, socialization, and basic education.
Lao Veng, director of the rehab department in the Ministry of Social Affairs, said in his presentation that the ministry’s work platform for 2008 to 2013 includes the “widening and strengthening of sport and art activities for the disabled.” Mr Veng added that in the future the ministry hopes to hold “special events” for the children in each province.
Ny Nhar, program officer with the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization, said during a break at the workshop that he is pleased that the government and NGOs are paying attention to those with disabilities.
“Generally, society thinks that the disabled cannot do anything. This idea discourages the disabled,” he said. “This issue is not new.”