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'Sort out care' for disabled Asians

Disabled children in the Asian community will continue to be neglected if ineffective and inequitable care services are not sorted out, a conference in London heard last week.

The conference, organised by the National Children's Bureau, focused on the need for a multi-disciplinary approach from the social, health and educational services to identify the interests of disabled ethnic-minority children.

It coincided with the re-issue of a key guide in the field - The silent minority: children with disabilities in Asian families by Robina Shah.

Ms Shah said that service providers needed to work together more constructively and with parents if they were to get rid of their misconceptions about the attitude of Asian parents to special needs.

And she said it was essential that ethnicity and diverse cultures were respected: "The 1989 Children Act states very clearly the need to identify the importance and inter-play of race, religion, culture and language in assessing the needs of the child."

She said more money was needed for bilingual support services as language was a major barrier to understanding between professionals and parents.

"Asian parents who do experience language difficulties are far more vulnerable in the maze of medical diagnosis," said Ms Shah. "How can they provide an informed opinion about the medical and educational assessment of their child if they do not fully understand the diagnosis?"

Sabiha Azmi, a psychologist at Manchester University's Hester Adrian Research Centre, accused professionals of often blaming a child's bilingualism for their learning problems.

But she said research showed that children had a natural ability for learning a second language and added: "It makes me angry that we are so lagging behind in helping Asian children - so little is done in trying to use a multicultural approach in their education.

"Children are going into special schools, not because of learning difficulties, but because of problems with acquiring bilingual support.

"If the bilingualism of these children is ignored, they will lose touch with their mother tongues, and this could mean they end up not being able to communicate with parents who cannot understand English," said Ms Azmi.

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