Ask any parent and they will tell you how difficult it is to handle children during a lockdown. With cities under complete lockdown, schools indefinitely shut, and all forms of support system severed due to lack of connection with the outside world, schooling young kids at home is a Sisyphean task. And it is especially daunting, when you are a parent of a child with special needs.
Any child who is unable to meet his physical or mental age-appropriate milestones, due to any factor, is a child with special needs.
Dr Pooja Grover Kapoor, Co-Founder and Director, Continua Kids, explains, “To make them meet their age-appropriate developmental goals, various therapies are required – physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and applied behaviour analysis therapy. These therapies are individualised and tailormade, according to the requirement of each child, and thus is different for every child,” she tells us.
Continua Kids is a child developmental centre which provides scientifically proven therapies under one roof. Dr Pooja and her Co-founder and fellow Director Dr Himani Narula Khanna set up the centre, short for Centre of Neurotherapy for Uniquely Abled Kids, in December 2016 in Gurugram.
The former is a paediatric neurologist while Himani is a developmental and behavioural paediatrician.
In the three and a half years since the inception, Continua Kids has expanded its footprint to nine locations – including Gurugram, South Delhi, Faridabad, Bhiwadi, Noida, and Amritsar. They have worked with more than 7,000 special needs children over the years.
But its greatest challenge is unfolding now. In these extraordinary times, where stepping outdoors is no longer an option, the startup is opening its doors through online sessions.
“Our app has an age-wise milestone tracker for children in 0-5 years of age. You can upload the video of your child on the app and can check whether it is age appropriate or not,” adds Dr Pooja.
The prime objective of Continua Kids is to integrate different specialised therapies under one roof, under the supervision of a doctor who can coordinate them, and in turn plan the best possible treatment option for a child.
Dr.Pooja conceptualised this centre while practising paediatric neurology as a consultant at Gurugram’s Artemis hospital in 2012. During that time, she found it an uphill task for parents who ran from pillar to post in search of specialised centres offering a particular therapy.
“Each specialised therapist would provide best individualised therapy to the child but there was no multidisciplinary approach. There was no integration of therapies or different therapists under one roof,” she explains.
This concern gave birth to Continua Kids in 2016. Today, its multidisciplinary team comprises paediatric neurologist, psychologist, developmental paediatrician, psychiatrist, occupational therapist, special educator, speech therapist, physiotherapist, orthotist, ABA therapist, and yoga therapist.
Together, the team provides assessment and evaluation of any neuro atypical condition and even treatment options for autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, global developmental delays, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning difficulty, and more.
According to UNESCO’s 2019 report ‘State of the Education Report for India: Children with Disabilities,’ one fourth of the CWD population in the country, aged between five and 19, did not attend any educational institution. “Among five year old children with disabilities, three-fourths do not go to any educational institution,” the report stated.
The reason behind this state of affairs was attributed to the lack of inclusivity in education. Other factors include lack of awareness on legal rights and entitlements of CWDs, absence of accessibility to grievance redressal mechanisms, and the attitudinal shortcomings among parents and teachers.
Now, as India battles the worst pandemic of the century, the challenges faced by CWDs have amplified. Despite a bunch of startups and ed-tech companies catering to this underserved demographic, there remains an unmistakable gap – one that Continue Kids aims to tackle head on.
Through online sessions, app-driven programmes, and home programming for outstation as well as international parents, the centre aims to cater to these children, especially in these trying times, so that the needs of no child are ignored due to social, financial, or geographical constraints. And in doing so, the startup is hopeful of penetrating deeper into the interior pockets of India, areas that demand special attention.
Dr Pooja quips, “We want to be a ‘social equaliser’ and provide opportunity to every special needs child in the society.”