Royal Family Care
"This scholarship is one more step towards the true inclusion of people with disabilities."
Maria Cristina Fernández Coll has seen how, since the pandemic, the cases of minors who arrived with a need at the foundation for disabled people in Menorca, grew exponentially. However, before the change that 2020 meant for all of us, the foundation presented a project aimed at the integration and improvement of life quality of minors with various types of disabilities.
Several years later, and coinciding with the 5th anniversary of the Royal Family Scholarship and the increase in the amount to €5,000, the Royal Son Bou has decided to grant the scholarship to two projects that will improve the lives of these boys and girls, but also to “make one more step towards true inclusion,” in words of Fernández.
How did you receive the news that you had been granted the 2023 Family Scholarship after applying in 2019 and 2022?
With great surprise, because we had already presented the project in previous calls, where we had not been selected. Then the pandemic hit and we forgot about the project. So it was a great joy because it really is a part of the population that needs support and specific complementary activities.
The amount of the scholarship will cover two lines of work.
Yes, in deed. After the pandemic, when demands increased greatly in the youth and children's sector, we are staking a lot on expanding the occupational therapy service, and being able to start working with animals. Occupational therapy helps a lot to integrate sensory stimuli and work on specific skills. And equine therapy is more aimed at the expression of emotions and communication, because the majority of profiles we serve have difficulties in these two fields.
What type of profiles is the first line of occupational therapy aimed at?
We have an emerging profile of people with disabilities who are basically related to the autism spectrum condition. This means that we are treating children who sometimes have sensory problems. An autistic person sometimes finds it difficult to determine the types of sounds, touches, luminosity, everything that has to do with the senses. In contact with different elements these aspects can be worked. With other disability profiles, occupational therapy is worked on to help structure tasks, to carry out sequences, and psychomotor skills are also included. And although with this line we will be able to work with a group of about 15 people, many more are affected. Currently, 80% of minors who come to the foundation are included in the autism spectrum.
Are there more boys and girls with autism than a few years ago?
We assume that much more is being diagnosed than before, and diagnostic biases are being corrected. Not all people with autism also present the same symptoms, but it is being diagnosed as this condition becomes known.
Is it an accepted disability in our society?
When the person is very affected by this disability, it is usually detected at a very early age. But as it is a condition that does not have physical symptoms, such as Down syndrome, it presents difficulties for boys and girls and their relationships among equals and with adults. If they do not know that they are a person with this condition, they are treated like other children, which presents many problems for boys and girls with autism. They are people who need a lot of anticipation of what is going to happen during the day, they must have a very structured life, they have sensory hypersensitivity, they have difficulties in communication, their emotional expression is totally limited... So, since it is not perceived physically, it presents more difficulties than other disabilities.
How does this type of therapy benefit children with autism?
The idea is to start intervening from the moment a child is born, based on the referrals we have. And we serve many of these people their entire lives. The type of intervention must be very tailored to each person because the autism spectrum is very broad.
Let's talk about the equine therapy line.
It is therapeutic work with animals, in this case with horses, which are very noble animals and adapt very well to the characteristics of the person. A group of children with all types of disabilities participate: down syndrome, intellectual delay and other disabilities. Aspects such as self-confidence, self-esteem and emotional expression are worked on. It is a psychotherapeutic element that shows different ways of relating even if there is no verbal communication.
From the foundation, how do you see initiatives such as the Royal Family Scholarship emerging from private companies?
We are working a lot in the area of corporate social responsibility and we are obtaining very positive responses from companies, both with financial support and with support for people's job placement. In fact, with the Royal Son Bou we have also worked in this sense and there are three people working that we derive from the foundation. For us, what is important and what adds value is that it is a path towards the inclusion of people with disabilities. Society is taking care of a group that is quite significant, since it affects more than 5% of the population. This type of collaboration makes people with disabilities feel part of this world, when not so many years ago they were outside of society because they hid.
Are more initiatives of this type necessary?
There is still a lot of work to do. A physical disability is something that can happen to anyone because you can have an accident or you can have an illness that causes it, but non-physical disabilities are not as understood. We serve people with mental health disabilities and they are still very stigmatized. There is no social acceptance that there are people with mental health problems who should be inserted. They are traits that at a social level we have associated with unacceptable behaviors, but the vast majority are people who go completely missing because they are accompanied. Above all, there is great loneliness and misunderstanding towards some types of disabilities that may not be so kind, causing people to exhibit problematic behaviors. In society, we have plenty of these profiles. Therefore, having companies and private entities collaborate with the foundation is one more step towards acceptance of the group and true inclusion.