by Ma. Concepcion B. Javier & Jan Christelle M. Sales
“Sa mga LGUs na katulad nito na libre [ang development center], bilang mga magulang, napakalaking tulong… Sana magkaroon pa ng ganito sa ibang lugar sa Pilipinas. Kahit ganito lang kaliit pero libre,” says Mommy Ivy, one of the special children’s parents who comes to the Biñan City Development Center (BCDC) weekly.
With the price range of physical therapy in the country一P600 to P1,500 per hour depending on the program and number of sessions一providing for children with special needs comes with a high price ceiling that not all families can afford. As of September this year, the Department of Education (DepEd) was also unable to allocate any budget for children with special needs in the proposed 2023 national budget.
Biñan’s local government addresses these problems by operating BCDC, a free and active learning place for Biñanense kids with special needs. BCDC, supported by the Persons with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO) and City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWD), has been providing the necessary intervention to ensure that indigent Biñanenses with different developmental and learning needs will be given equal support and opportunity.
The end goal of the center is to develop the children’s social responsibility and independent performance of day-to-day activities.
“Kailangan talaga each city ay mayroong [development] center na free kasi deserve nila ‘yon, paano ‘yung mga less fortunate na hindi afford na magpa-therapy?” says Teacher Ella Yango, the current BCDC’s head therapist.
BCDC has already been in operation even before the enactment of Republic Act No.11650, also known as the “Inclusive Education Act of 2022,” a law mandating each municipality to have at least one free Inclusive Learning Resource Center (ILRC) for learners with special needs. In 2015, Republic Act No.10754 was signed into law, which states that persons with disabilities shall be provided with educational services and assistance–this became the law basis of establishing a free development center in early 2018. It is in collaboration with Biñan SPED programs for the holistic development of the enrolled individuals.
“For me, ang BCDC talaga is about development. Usually kasi, ang handle namin ay autism, ADHD– ayan talaga ang need ng development para sila ay makacope up sa general education,” answers Teacher Ella, when asked about her definition of BCDC.
While SPED schools focus on educating the learners about the usual courses with consideration to their disabilities and learning capacities, a development center underscores the improvement of the differently abled persons in terms of their self-help and noncognitive skills. Yango explained that some of their activities include teaching the kids to use padlocks and keys, replacing flashlight batteries, using scissors, among other day-to-day activities. These tasks may look simple through the lens of normal people, but these actions are already complex and essential lessons for those with developmental delays.
Cognitive disability, along with its burden of expenses to the family, is a long-term struggle. Many parents expressed their gratitude for the free development center in Biñan, which constantly helps them handle their children so that the latter can reach their full potential and become productive community citizens.
Jonah Tobias, a mother of two differently abled children and active comer since 2019, said, “Hindi ko kayang i-handle nang mag-isa. Kailangan ko talaga ng isang epesyalista, ‘yun nga ‘yung therapist. Kailangan ko din ng tulong nila at ‘yung guidance nila para at least magabayan kami.”
“Sobrang laking tulong. Bukod sa libre, may development sa behavior niya and sa speech. Even if every once a week lang kami pumasok, nakita namin kay Kiana ‘yung improvement kasi before, iba ‘yung behavior niya,” tells Ivy Pam as she described how the center has been alleviating the condition of her daughter, who is diagnosed with Global Development Delay Section 2 Down Syndrome.
Processes Inside BCDC
There are a few admission requirements before a student gets enrolled in BCDC. One of these is the primary diagnosis of his/her/their learning disability. The other prerequisite is the parents’ commitment to adhere to the objectives of the center.
In every one-hour session, there is a teacher assigned to each kid. During the session, activities start with a physical massage– a hard or a soft one, to reduce aggression and improve the child’s mood. Then, it will be followed by action songs, where the children sing and dance with the teachers. Lastly is sensory integration therapy, which helps the kids process and react to sensations efficiently.
When it comes to the close cooperation between BCDC teachers and parents of the special children, Mommy Ivy comments: Open communication po kami ng mga teachers lalo na sa mga naghahandle sa mga anak namin. Mayroon po kaming GC. Bukod sa GC, may notebook po sila, so every session po nila, naka-note kung ano po lahat yung activities. Before we go home, binabasa po nila samin, ineexplain, and we need to continue at home kasi para magdiretso.
If each child is subjected to an individualized learning program, how do we know if the center effectively addresses their developmental needs? Every after 50 minutes of the learning session, 10 minutes will be allotted for the therapist’s assessment, wherein events will be discussed with the guardian. Unlike regular schools with a definite learning timeline, the learning program in SPED schools and centers depends on the performance of the individuals in every session. Some take shorter periods, while others take longer before progress and development happen.
Challenges of Having a Free SPED Center
For its first year, the center initially plans to cater to only 20 individuals who have a primary diagnosis of intellectual disability. Upon disseminating the news to social media platforms and community radio, the center received an overwhelming demand from the public.
Yango mentioned that parents from nearby municipalities often said they do not have a development center in their town.
Today, 43 learners are enrolled in Biñan City Development Center, with only six teachers overseeing each child. Due to the shortage of teachers and staff, each kid is scheduled for an hour per week session to learn various adaptive skills, while every Friday is reserved for socialization wherein all the children will be meeting with one another.
Currently, the learners enrolled in the center are aged 3 to 10. Yango said that as much as they wish to cater to a more adult age group of differently abled individuals, it would be implausible since the former may already have sexual tendencies, which the understaffed BCDC would have difficulties dealing with. According to Yango, it is also a challenge for them when the child reaches the age of 13 since they would have to stop attending the sessions; this is when the teachers eventually get disconnected from them.
What is in store for BCDC
Although funding from the local government units is being exchanged with lots of time, patience, and paperwork, Yango still considers BCDC as ‘blessed’ to have sufficient resources from sponsors and private contributors. She added that many people, who have heard of the center, are willing to extend their helping hand and support it in their own little ways. Nonetheless, the acquired resources are still inadequate to make progressive changes to the center.
PDAO Head Officer Arnel Yambao, in an exclusive interview, laid out their plans to further BCDC so that it cannot only continue but also improve how PWD learners are being empowered. He mentioned three major targets: bigger infrastructure, extension programs, and institutionalization of the center.
The first concern is the facilities– the children have to enter a public market crowded with people when going to the center. It is located on the third floor of a four-story building and has three small rooms: one for the parents’ waiting area and the teachers’ office, while the second and third rooms serve as the activity areas. For learners with disabilities, more so who are children, this type of infrastructure is not an ideal facility. Yambao explained that the LGU is aware of this problem; however, this is the only available option for BCDC as of now. He reiterated that the infrastructure improvement is part of the BCDC’s 2023 – 2025 project proposal.
To further improve the learning program, included in the local government’s 2023 – 2025 project proposal is to extend the center to cater to adult learners with intellectual disabilities. This will serve as a training ground to prepare differently abled individuals with essential skills for employment.
Lastly, one of the leading problems of the center is the lack of therapists and teachers. In line with this, Yambao presents a plan of action:
“Isa sa gusto kong i-improve ay ‘yung pagiging institutionalized ng BCDC, upang sa gano’n ay magkaroon sila ng plantilla at nang sa gayon ay maging secured naman ang ating mga empleyado,” says the PDAO officer.