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Cerebral Palsy is no handicap to young psychologist

Kumaran Kumanan, a practising psychologist and a PhD student (Photo Supplied)

Dr Malini Yugendran
Auckland, March 9, 2023

Kumaran Kumanan is a Doctoral research student, counselling psychologist, poet, and lyricist. However, Mr Kumanan lives with cerebral palsy, which affects his lower limbs and requires him to use a wheelchair for mobility. Additionally, he has difficulty with fine motor movement and requires assistance with daily activities.

Despite his disability, Mr Kumanan has achieved a lot in his life. He has authored two biographies, Anandha Thaandavam and CP to CP – Cerebral Palsy to Counselling Psychologist, in Tamil and English respectively. He has also published a collection of poems titled Raja Nadai in 2017. Although Mr Kumanan cannot write, he uses scribes and speech-to-text technology.

Exclusion and Discrimination

His mother Karpagam said that as a premature baby, Kumanan faced serious health complications. “Kumaran was not meeting his milestones in growth, and he did not crawl, sit, or speak until he was two and a half years old,” she said.

Despite his physical challenges, Mr Kumanan’s childhood was normal up until the age of 12 when he was removed from regular schooling because the school’s management was unwilling to accommodate a classroom on the ground floor.

Mr Kumanan’s experience is not unique; disabled students around the world often face exclusion and discrimination from regular schooling.

According to a report by UNESCO, an estimated 32 million children with disabilities in developing countries are out of school, and those who do attend often face discrimination, exclusion, and limited participation in classroom activities.

Alternative Education

“The loss of an opportunity to be in a regular classroom environment and interact with peers affected me negatively for several years,” Mr Kumanan said.

“Although I completed my higher secondary grades through NIOS – National Institute of Open Schooling (IGNOU -Indira Gandhi National Open University), I missed out on a potential teenage circle, which affected me in a negative way,” he added.

NIOS is an Indian open schooling system established by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. It provides a flexible and alternative mode of education for students who are unable to attend regular schools. IGNOU is also an Indian open university that provides distance learning programs at various levels of education.

“Diversity should be a standard practice in pedagogy. Students need not only education but also social acceptance in a friendly peer group, and diversity is the key to achieving this,” Mr Kumanan said.

Mr Kumanan asserts that such an environment is vital for a student’s success in higher education, as well as in their future workplace and personal relationships.

Turning Point

Mr Kumanan sees his life as having several turning points, from his premature birth to his discovery of psychology as an academic subject during his 10th grade. However, he believes the most significant one was on 14 June 2019, when he debuted as a lyricist.

Mr Kumanan is nearing his completion of this Doctoral degree and said this journey was made possible due to the support he receives from the Bharathiar University in Coimbatore, his mentor R Subashree, who also serves as the head of the psychology department at the Madras School of Social Work, and his fellow research scholars.

Kumaran with his parents Elango and Karpagam Kumanan and brother Bharathan (Photo Supplied)

Support and Encouragement

Mr Kumanan’s mother stressed the significance of therapy for children with cerebral palsy. “I want to encourage caregivers to stay positive and not give up. I understand that it can be difficult to navigate the challenges that come with parenting a child with special needs. In some cases, fathers may choose to leave, but it is important for mothers to stay strong and build a network of supportive people around them,” she said.

Mr Kumanan’s father, Elango Kumanan, quit his job as an announcer at All India Radio to start a business and support his son.

Mr Kumanan’s Clinic: K Point

Despite his personal challenges, Mr Kumanan is keen to help young people with disabilities. He said, “the challenges they face are more psychological than physical as the physical disability is a lifetime element but the impact does change from time to time.”

Mr Kumanan has dedicated his career to helping others. He runs a clinic called “K Point” in Chennai, which offers counselling and psychological services to individuals, including those with disabilities and people of all ages and backgrounds. Mr Kumanan said, “My clinic provides affordable services to those in need.” Additionally, the clinic offers support to families and caregivers of individuals with disabilities. Mr Kumanan is an active member of the disability rights movement in India. He believes that individuals with disabilities should have access to the same rights and opportunities as non-disabled individuals, and he is committed to fighting for these rights.

Cerebral Palsy in New Zealand

According to the Cerebral Palsy Society of New Zealand, approximately 1 in 500 live births in New Zealand is diagnosed with cerebral palsy each year. This translates to around 700-900 children born with cerebral palsy in the country annually. Furthermore, it is estimated that around 15,000 people are currently living with cerebral palsy in New Zealand.

The following organisations offer various support services, including information and advice, counselling, equipment and resource provision, and advocacy, among others. They can also connect caregivers of children with cerebral palsy with other families who are going through similar experiences:

Cerebral Palsy Society of New Zealand – https://www.cpsociety.org.nz/

Disability Connect – https://www.disabilityconnect.org.nz/

CCS Disability Action – https://ccsdisabilityaction.org.nz/

IHC New Zealand – https://ihc.org.nz/

Enable New Zealand – https://www.enable.co.nz/

Dr Malini Yugendran is an Indian Newslink Reporter based in Auckland.

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