Muscat: The parents of children afflicted by Down Syndrome in Oman face many challenges and hurdles to raise them in a country that lacks comprehensive support ranging from specialised education, health services to financial funding.
According to statistics, every sixth child born in Oman is diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Yet, the facilities to look after their welfare are very limited and at times, rudimentary. Parents are left desperate to fend for themselves and struggle to enrol their disabled children in specialised education and find advice about proper care very scanty.
"We give special need education from birth to year six, and after that we ask the parents to take their children away. We are a charity organisation and we cannot offer advanced education for the special need children. It is up to the ministry of education to educate them after six years of age," Sabah Al Bahlani, head of Early Intervention Centre located at Al Azaiba, told the Times of Oman.
The exact number of children afflicted with Down Syndrome in Oman is unknown and the number of babies born in this condition is rising every year. Bahlani urged the government to create statistical data to help the nation to plan comprehensively for the welfare of such children, and for that matter, the rest of the special need children in Oman.
"Without statistics, we cannot know the extent of the Down Syndrome children or other conditions. We need the statistics to plan for their education, health services, employment and even funding," Bahlani added.
Parents say Down Syndrome children end up staying at home because schools, both private and government, reject these children for lack of specialised education to cater to their needs.
"I have a 12-year-old Down Syndrome son who is at home because he was rejected by every school in Oman. I have to leave my job to teach him at home. I am both frustrated and angry not because I have a child like that, but because of the lack of support in Oman which is shocking," Khadija Al Rahbi, a resident of Al Khoudh told the Times of Oman.
In UK, 60 per cent of the people with Down Syndrome finish secondary school and go to work. Life expectancy there has also increased to 60 years with better medical care.
"I have never heard of any person in this condition working, let alone awarded with a secondary school education here in Oman. Why? Because the government does not care enough and the society is not supportive at all," Al Rahbi added.
Parents also are left to cope with a high level of stress while raising such children, according to Aisha Al Farsi, a mother of three children, whose last daughter is a two-year-old diagnosed with Down Syndrome.
"Parents need counselling. We need answers and want to be assured that our children with this condition will be alright.
"We don't ask for them to go to university but we want enough support for these children to be relatively independent and have careers suitable for their condition," Farsi told the Times of Oman.
Officials from the ministries of education and social development were not available for comment.