Monday, September 5, 2011

Joys and Challenges of Teaching Mentally Challenged

It is time for games. Each person is given one chit containing the name of the animal. At the sound of the whistle, the participants unfold the chit and make a sound of the animal searching for similar sounds. Whole room is filled with different sounds, some baying, some mooing, some quacking and some barking, within 2 minutes one group has found the family of four meowing cats and is the winner. The winners are the staff of a special school and the game organisers are the parents of special children. Celebration of teacher’s day is in progress and special children are having fun watching their teachers running around making strange sounds.

Teachers around the world celebrate 5th September as teacher’s day. The birthday of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakhrishnan came to be celebrated as Teacher's Day when, one day, some of his students and friends requested him to allow them to celebrate his birthday. In reply, Dr. Radhakrishnan said, "instead of celebrating my birthday separately, it would be my proud privilege if September 5th is observed as Teacher's day". From then onwards, Dr. Radhakrishnan's birthday is observed as Teacher's Day all across India.

The greatest joy is when children show their appreciation to their teachers by singing their favorite song, reciting a poem or giving a rose. But teaching a special child has a joy of its own.

“You experience the purest form of love when working with the special children”, says Sukanya Venkatraman, the Principal of Swami Brahmamnand Pratishthan, Centre for Special children. “They are the most innocent beings that I have come across in my life. They are totally selfless and I have had the opportunity of learning the concept ‘Love without any expectation’ while teaching them. Their genuine appreciation, their thoughtful gestures fill me with wonder.”

In the early years, during her training period, Sukanya was scared to teach the children with severe behavior problems and had no idea how she would handle that, but experience over the years have helped her overcome her initial fear and apprehensions. “More than handling the behavior problems of the children, handling their parents is more challenging.” She says. “Helping them accept their child’s handicap and making them believe in themselves and in their child took the utmost effort. Most challenging is finding the job placement for our well-trained students.”

Swami Brahamanand Pratishthan was founded in June 1990 by Shirish Poojari with just two children. Over the period of twenty years, the school has progressed considerably and has 150 students on its roll. “I am happy to see the development in the children, and see their progress in daily life activities”, says Shirish Poojari, “In our institution, children are trained according to their ability and our goal is make them economically independent but our biggest challenge is funding and keeping the school afloat. When the children are older we are not able to keep them in school for long and there is need for some residential home where they could be looked after and work in the sheltered workshops.”

“My greatest joy is when they bring home the certificate of appreciation, I love working with special children, when I reach home at the end of the day, I am refreshed and active” says Madhuben Shah, the drawing teacher. “I want them to bring out their artistic expression through their painting. My biggest challenge is making them focus to attain near perfection by drawing and painting.” Madhuben teaches drawing starting with basic strokes, graduating to more complex designs. One of their paintings was appreciated by my friend from US and she bought it on line. The children also make beautiful greeting cards and colorful posters.

“Being in their company and working with them is a joy itself” says Sunit Marwah, who is in charge of the vocation unit since last five years. There are various activities in the vocational unit such as making paper-bags, Rakhis, lamps, toran, pillow covers, duster, hand-bags, beaded jewelry, chocolates, ground masalas, etc which are later sold during exhibitions and children are given little stipend for their work. “I like to see the joy on their face on completing a certain articles and this gives me the greater joy. My biggest challenge is taming an aggressive child.” She talks about one particular child, Rohini, who was so aggressive when she came to school, she would throw temper tantrum, fling things and create commotion in school, but with little understanding and love, she has been able to discipline the girl.

“When I came to teach the special children I didn’t know what was expected of me” says 43-old Anita, who has been teaching computers to the special children since last 11 years. “Now-a-days there is wealth of information on internet and it has become easy to plan a proper lesson program and follow the particular format but during those days there were no proper reference books and I had to adopt trial and error methods to understand what works and what doesn’t. My biggest challenge is when the children are not in the mood of doing a particular activity and I am forced to steer my activity to their liking, sometimes I am not sure if the child is hearing and understanding me at all. But my greatest joy is when they are able to follow my instructions and produce good results.” She proudly talks about her student who had won the competition at state level on art work produced on computer.

While teaching a normal child is a challenge, teaching a special child is double challenge. Teaching special children involves parents, social workers, society members and other professionals. It is the continuous process. The children tend to forget easily and they have to be taught again and again till the child is able to understand the concept and use it to his daily life. The simple adding and subtraction is taught in different ways to suit his level of understanding.

It is not easy for parents too.

“I always worried how my child would manage when she starts menstruating, but I am glad that she has managed quite well” says Madhu Verma, mother of 17-years-old Sneha. Sneha is Down’s Syndrome child who surprises her mother by watching ants walking in line, of running after soap bubbles and gracefully shaking her hips to the rhythm of the music. “I have learnt to appreciate her and see the world through her eyes” says she with a smile.

The biggest challenge the parents of the special child face is to plan their future. “My son is 22 years old and the extreme pressure is ‘What next?’. I worry about the guardianship after our existence, of financial investment and how these investments will guarantee their future, about the family life of my son, whether he will be able to nurture a family of his own” says Davis Ipe, father of Neil who is learning some vocation skills at school. “Most challenging is the fact that we are growing older and weaker everyday and to find the perfect substitute to replace parents is our deepest concern.”

The special child unaware of the challenges that are lined up by society, lives each day as it comes, enjoying the present moment. He is unhappy when in pain, aggressive when things go wrong and claps his hand with joy on seeing his smallest achievement. His teacher and his parents try their best to block his pain.Happy teacher’s day to his teachers and his parents!!
excerpts from this article can also be found on Women's Web Magazine

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