YK Poudel 

The Phensem Parents Support Group (PPSG), a civil society organisation, recently trained 42 participants, including parents, teachers, and special education needs (SEN) aides, to help non-vocal children communicate using alternative modes of communication.

The training took place on May 6 and will be followed by another session on “Technology as an assistive tool for learning for children with disabilities (CWDs),” on May 13, which will benefit 416 CWDs in the country.

Last year, the participants underwent two other series of training on “Behaviour management and positive reinforcement” and “Inclusive play.”

Sonam Choden, a teacher at Changangkha MSS, said that the concepts and modes of communication discussed during the training were applicable to CWDs. “Being a mother of a child with Down Syndrome and a teacher where we have CWDs, taking part in the training was helpful.”

She further added that non-vocal CWDs require other means of communication, such as sign language or the use of pictures and symbols. The alternative strategies learned during the training will allow the participants to apply them with the students and children at school, helping them better.

According to her, the use of technology is challenging and slow in Bhutan. Still, the approach will be helpful over time. She also emphasised the need for inclusive opportunities for CWDs, especially for those who transitioned from SEN schools at a young age, to grow and get vocational or technical training in Bhutan.

SEN aide of PPSG, Kajal Gurung, said that CWDs who are unable to communicate using speech struggle with their performance in schools and at home. She believes that such training for parents and teachers will make inclusive learning and play vital in education, helping the students to fill the communication gap.

Executive director of PPSG, Karma Sonam Dorji, said that the training was part of a series of four workshops focusing on four important domains identified in the field of inclusive learning and play, aimed at parents, teachers, and SEN aides.

“In Bhutan, the transition is slow – access to learning in schools has been a challenge for children with disabilities who lack the motor skills to read and write the conventional way or even have speech and language issues,” said Karma Sonam Dorji. She added that the workshop was an introduction to alternative and augmentative communication (AAC), discussing the challenges of parents and teachers and strategizing plans to facilitate them.

The training was provided by ACC educators from the Communication Department of Vidya Sagar, India, with support from the Rotary Club of Thimphu.

The PPSG has 490 registered members and has facilitated counselling, self-care and knowledge-sharing activities, and training to over 450 people.