Charities Thriving Despite Difficult Pasts: Chitra Lane School for the Special Child

Thriving Despite Difficult Pasts: Chitra Lane School for the Special Child

2020 Oct 23

“Treat children with special needs and accept them as you would any other child. If we treat them differently, we create disability” 

Chitra Lane School for the Special Child is one that has been synonymous with Sri Lanka’s growing need for special education in the past 50 years. Founded in 1967, the school started from humble beginnings with just a single room with one student. Today, the school helps over 2000 children and young adults from various ethnicities, religions and socio economic backgrounds.

Delysia Gunawardene, Co-Founder and President of the School claims that her journey in helping children with special needs began as an accident, bringing the idea to life once her daughter started attending montessori. 

“I had no clue about special needs, but I was born with a love for children. I was interested in helping or working with children in the area of nutrition or adoption but I could not find an opening in any of these areas. My daughter was attending Joyce Gunasekere’s Montesorri – so I approached her. She said she had children with special needs but she did not have the facilities to help them much”

Enlisting the help of two of her friends who had no knowledge of children but were eager to help with fundraising, she spent six months going to libraries and learning as much as possible about the subject. 

“As I had no experience handling children with special needs we started with one child. I did the teaching/training and communicating with the parents. We then admitted the other two students. Soon we had 10 students and we needed more staff and space. My friends found a lovely garage in an old home on Bagatelle Road and we moved there, employing 2 girls to help me. That was the beginning. Unfortunately, one of my friends died of cancer soon after, and the other friend emigrated to Australia. I was left with the small school” 

However, this did not discourage her. By creating a safe space where children and young adults with special needs were given the opportunity to develop their skills on their own terms, which in turn, helped them achieve their full potential, the project blossomed. By 1988, the number of students had risen to 250 and the Chitra Lane School for the Special Child had reached its maximum capacity. Her compassion towards the students has proven highly effective when it comes to tackling their problems. 

“No two children are the same. If you have 5 children they are like the 5 fingers of your hand. No one method of teaching or training will suit them all. Methods have to be created individually although you can have one method taught in different ways. This is true of any child”.

The students come from various backgrounds and each requires a different method of learning, which must be created uniquely to cater to the child’s needs. Delysia’s extensive research and knowledge on the subject ensure that each child’s needs are taken care of to the best of their ability.

By observing the child from the moment you see him/her and talking to the family or caregivers, one can get an idea of how to start a programme. The objective is to build compliance and attention and the most important place to do this is at home. So, our programmes start at the ‘feeding’ table at home with the parent/caregiver. I didn’t use the word ‘dining table’ because we’ve often worked with families who are unable to afford one. Once attention and compliance are not concerns we start parallel sessions with our qualified teachers or therapists along with the home programme” 

For the occasion of the school celebrating 50 years of service, they launched a book ‘The Chitra Lane Way: A Definitive Approach to Empowering Children with Special Needs in Sri Lanka’ in 2018, which Mrs Gunawardana believes may help in raising public awareness, acceptance, empathy and an attitude of kindness towards differences. 

I encourage everybody to read this book, not just because it supports a good cause but because it can be a first step towards creating this attitude change in every  parent, child, teacher, policy maker etc” 

The school also organises workshops for parents, teachers and other adults to build awareness and skills via the Chitra Lane Academy, the training and skills development arm of the organisation. The Chitra Lane Sheltered Workshop aims to build and showcase the vocational talents of the students in baking, cooking, sewing,  beadwork, recycled papermaking and screen printing. All of this goes to show that disability is definitely not an inability and anybody with special needs can reach great heights with the right amount of support. 

For regular updates on their courses and products, visit the school’s Instagram page at

If you wish to make a contribution, contact 0112 582 758