Few options seen for developmentally disabled

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Few options seen for developmentally disabled

After a family of three was found asphyxiated from burned charcoal briquettes in their apartment last month in Gwangju, South Jeolla, a suicide note authorities believe was written by the father suggests that their decision was triggered by the state of their 5-year-old son, who had a developmental disability.

“My son can’t even recognize his parents,” the note read. “The doctor said he can never be fully cured, and medical facilities are way too scarce.”

Acquaintances of the family testified that the parents had fallen into a deep despair after receiving the news.

In Korea, there were approximately 197,000 people as of last year with developmental disabilities, and a rash of suicide cases among those with family members with special needs suggests that a lack of medical resources and assistance have contributed to those tragedies.

In November, a man in his 40s living in Gwanak District, southern Seoul, strangled his 17-year-old autistic son and then hanged himself.

“It’s too painful to live in this country with a developmentally disabled child. I’m taking my son with me. Bury us together,” the father wrote in his suicide note.

Developmental disability refers to a permanent cognitive or physical impairment a person is born with or that manifests during childhood, such as Down syndrome. A 2012 study by the Ministry of Health and Welfare showed that “one of the parents of a developmentally disabled child must be available to take care [of that child] for his or her entire life.”

Accordingly, family income falls by 50 to 70 percent on average if parents take leave from work, and 52 percent of them showed signs of depression. Nearly half of the parents who responded to the study answered that, as a result, they were unable to participate in family gatherings.

Since 2007, local associations serving the handicapped have been calling on the government to enact a special law providing more support for families who have children with special needs. Saenuri Party member Kim Jung-rok along with 12 other lawmakers proposed such a bill in 2012, but negotiations to sign it are currently in a deadlock, with some arguing that it is not fair toward other handicapped people.

The bill called for financial and social assistance for families with developmentally disabled children - establishing a fund to help with basic living expenses, setting up a support center and aiding with resettlement funds.

“We’re at a loss,” said Park Tae-sung, the president of the Korea Parents’ Association of the Disabled, referring to him and his wife.

Park said the couple had been suffering from depression, which was exacerbated by the realization that they would need to take care of their intellectually disabled daughter for the rest of their lives.

Parental consulting and nanny services are available for a mere 3,000 families with severely disabled kin. Of those, income limits exclude middle-class families from receiving benefits.

The employment rate for the developmentally disabled stands at 16.5 percent, and average monthly income averages 40,000 won ($37). The marriage rate totaled less than 20 percent.

“No one can possible imagine what anguish parents with developmentally handicapped children go through,” Park said. “The National Assembly must hurry to pass the bill.”

BY SHIN SEONG-SIk [enational@joongnang.co.kr]

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