People often create a demeaning image of children with clefts. Especially, a child with a cleft lip seems to be more vulnerable as the cleft can easily be identified at first sight. Lack of awareness about clefts contributes to a wrong notion among people and this is more prevalent in rural regions. This gives birth to social stigmas, unacceptance and inequality. Some even describe a cleft as an abnormal condition. However, a cleft should be understood as a merely treatable health condition and not as a disgrace.
Queries are manifold about how schools can play a pivotal role in helping children with clefts live a more dignified life in their surroundings? Can awareness in schools bring about perceptible changes in the minds of people about a cleft?
Many children are reportedly not allowed in schools because of their facial deformities. Most of the extreme reactions are based on certain orthodox beliefs. For them, the cleft is a physical disability, and a child with a cleft cannot be like normal children. Neither can they read their alphabets nor can they understand and socialise keeping aside their deformity.
The major challenge for a child with a cleft is social integration. Of course, the child needs supportive and motivating parents, but he/she also needs a healthy and conducive environment to grow and prosper.
When a child with a cleft goes to school, the first situation he or she experiences is discrimination. When other children see a noticeable sign of the cleft—like a difference in speech, the shape of the nose, or a scar on the lip, they start teasing the child. In such a case, a teacher can explain to other children about the condition and teach them not to discriminate.
Secondly, does a child’s intelligence have anything to do with the cleft? A child born with a cleft lip and/or palate should be treated like any other child in the classroom and outside. Another important issue faced by children with a cleft is the lack of self-esteem. If the student is having difficulty in learning, that does not mean the child is not fit for learning. Rather, the school can take measures at the earliest possible age to help the child learn in the same space as other students. Even if the parents of the cleft child seem tensed or hopeless at times, the school can boost their morals through counselling.
School is the place where the social integration of a child takes place. Therefore, it is important that other children get an opportunity to learn about the facial differences in school so that they learn to treat children with a cleft in a better way. If the school takes the responsibility to mainstream children with cleft and help to improve their social situation, this positive reinforcement would help them towards a successful learning experience in school and their social development as well.