At a function in honour of children and adults with Down Syndrome, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif announced a state of the art centre for special children being set up in Lahore. It seems, in this one fully encapsulating metropolis of a centre, we will see rehabilitation, education, training and health facilities par excellence. The CM went as far as to say that every effort would be made to save the children from Down syndrome (not realizing perhaps, that it is a genetic disorder and cannot be prevented, though barring cousin marriages might be a start). Though these are all encouraging things to hear, Pakistan lacks fore-mostly professionals who can accurately design and then sustain such initiatives. The thing with mental illness and disorders, is that they cannot be lumped together and all treated the same way. Just like you can’t have a Mathematics teacher teach Literature, you can’t have the same professionals dealing with a large group of children neatly labeled “special children.” Special children need specialized care. In the spectrum of Down Syndrome alone, there are varying functionalities of individuals, requiring specialized and specific care. In the autism spectrum, the disorder is even more vast, covering a wide range of high and low functioning people (Einstein and Newton have, according to some experts been deemed autistic). It is not as simple as handing out laptops to “talented” special children, or to glaze up a hospital, or to organize a series of class-rooms.

We need to train our special needs teachers here, we need to begin a program of teacher assistance where experts from other countries can train our professionals, therapists and nurses. What will we do with a state of the art centre for special children without the proper professionals to oversee the rehabilitation, the speech therapy, the physical and emotional therapy of children and adults with special needs. We don’t need a research centre in Lahore; let the research occur in the West where they have the additional resources to search for cures and better therapies. Let’s use their research and focus on what we need. We need trained professionals, and apart from the promise of one training facility for deaf and mute children, no real initiative to reach this end was shown.