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Helping children with 'special time' during the COVID-19 lockdown

Tasmina Tarafder and her children's book Source: Supplied

While the world has been struggling in the clutches of COVID-19, Melbourne-based PhD student and mother of two, Tasmiha Tarafder, has written a book for young children - especially those with a language delay - to help them navigate life under the pandemic.

When it felt like the whole world was put on hold due to the coronavirus crisis, PhD student Tasmiha Tarafdar thought she would use her time in between the rigours of structured academic writing and explore her creative side. 

"Creative writing opens the door of both mind and heart," she says, adding she is always looking for an opportunity to delve into her thoughts.  The coronavirus pandemic gave her the opportunity and the result was a children's book, aimed at ages five to seven with a focus on dealing with the pandemic.

Tasmiha wanted to focus on how children spend time at home with their families during this coronavirus crisis, especially children with a language delay.

"The book fictionalises the experience of a five-year-old boy (Roary) who has a speech delay so there are many occasions at his kindergarten and in the social setting that he experiences difficulties to socialise with his own peer groups," Tasmiha explains.

"Under COVID-19, Roary is spending substantial time at home with family and he is missing his learning experiences from kindergarten. However, his family is trying to give Roary the best experience by playing indoor, connecting with relatives over the phone.

Roary is also aware that there is a virus outside, so he must wash hands and stay at home.

"Life has not been easy for anyone including Roary who is just five years old."

Although children generally follow a progression of development milestones for learning the skills of language development, there are variations. 

After writing the book, the next challenge was to find an illustrator, whom she found eventually through social media.

“I advertised in various Facebook groups looking for Illustrator. A total of 150 people responded. Applications were received from various countries, from Latin America to India. I shortlisted seven of them, then three and finally selected Iffat Fahmida after interviewing her three times. She is from Rajshahi in Bangladesh.”

Sharing Roary's experience

Tasmiha hopes that children from all over the world will be able to share Roary's experience during this lockdown. 

As to why the book was written in English, Tasmiha cites the United Nations Policy brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on children.

“I have written my first children's book in English because 1.5 billion children and young people in 188 countries are staying at home and homeschooling through internet, television and other distance learning programmes.”

“So, this book is available to all those children who have English as their native language speaking and where it is used as a second language or foreign language. It is written in a simple form of English so that children can read easily.

She also cites statistics relating to the prevalence of children with some form of communication disability in Australia.

"According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2017) in Australia, of 2.2 million children aged 5-12 years who attended school in 2015, 4.1 per cent, which means 91,200 children had a communication disability. Almost half (47.1%) of these children participated in a particular class within a non-special school or attended a special school (24.0% and 23.8%, respectively).”

Those statistics have also been reflected in an increase in the number of speech pathology service claims made to Medicare - increasing from just over 3,000 in 2004-05, to 115,000 in 2012-13 - the majority of claims for services for children aged 0-14.

Illustration from Tasmiha Tarafdar's children's book
Illustration from Tasmiha Tarafdar's children's book.

'A connecting point' for those experiencing language delay

Tasmiha hopes that anyone who is going through a difficult experience like language delay will share the same experience from this book.

Thus this book will be like a connecting point with those who share the same experience as language delay.

"Boys ages three to 17 are more likely than girls to have a voice, speech, language, or swallowing disorder (9.6 per cent compared to 5.7 per cent) according to US Health and Human Services.”

The mother of two children, aged 18 and five, completed her PhD in Management from RMIT University in July this year and has been teaching there for the past two years. 

She also hopes to translate the book into Bangla, and says she believes that if you can keep yourself busy with creative work during the lockdown, then it will help not only yourself but your family too.

"If a woman gets encouragement from her family, then all the women in Bangladesh will be able to show their talent in the world." 

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