The children who lag behind their peers

Little is done by the Greek state to provide assistance to parents whose children have developmental disorders. General awareness about certain groups that have development problems and risk being marginalized has risen in Greece but most schools are not equipped to cope with such children. Parents often have to struggle with red tape, their offspring’s classmates and other parents. Information on the issue is sorely lacking and if parents themselves do not search for assistance, the children are held back. Often they are classified as persons with a disability when they could gradually be reintroduced to normal classrooms. It is the parent that has to pay for any care and therapy, as state centers do not exist. In many cases, the differences in these children are not noticeable. In day-care centers, therapy clinics or school classrooms where they have special classes, their drawings, toys, laughter and cries are the same as those of other children. A child with developmental disorders is, above all, still a child. They draw and play using the same coloring pens but may make more smudges than normal kids. They will learn to read as eagerly as most children but will probably feel disappointed more easily, and chiefly with themselves. Many children have developmental disorders, learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), mental retardation and emotional behavior disorders. There are no official data for Greece but research in the USA and other Western countries has revealed that 15-16 percent of the general school population suffers from such disorders. This figure varies according to the method used to measure the disorder. Child psychologist Dimitris Kara-yiannis, who is president of the IKA Child Psychology Center and a professor at Democritus University, said: «Fifteen years ago, we had 500 to 550 new cases, whereas now we have 5,700 new cases every year. If we add their family members, that’s like a new town every year.» Yiannis Papaconstantinou, child psychologist and consultant for the Spyros Doxiadis Special Diagnostic and Therapeutic Unit in Athens, believes there are more and more autistic children in the Western world for many reasons. Sometimes a shock can trigger off symptoms, as in the case of orphans from Eastern countries who were adopted by families in the West. The drastic change in environment prompted what seemed to be autistic behavior, but once the children adjusted their symptoms gradually disappeared. Communication disorders can arise from other factors. «We write so much that we do not communicate orally anymore,» said Giorgos Kalo-miris, a speech therapist and president of the Greek Association of Speech Therapists. «In the past, people spoke more and supported their arguments. How can I expect my child to write if I don’t talk to him, if I return home at 11 p.m. and if he is brought up by a caretaker who cannot even speak Greek instead of a family member?»