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Guiding lights

Entering the world of a special child is not easy, but you will be surprised at how a smile and tentative steps of progress can keep you infinitely motivated.

education Updated: Aug 04, 2010 10:35 IST
Ayesha Banerjee

He — let’s call him Ummeed— was like a sack of potatoes when his mother carried him, listless, expressionless, almost lifeless, to the Rajkumari Amrit Kaur Child Study Centre (RAKCSC), a nursery school affiliated to the Department of Child Development at Lady Irwin College in New Delhi. She was an anxious parent wanting to admit her daughter and brought the boy along because there was nobody to look after him at home. He was suffering from multiple disabilities – hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy included. He had low functioning ability, was unable to sit or even communicate.

Much to the mother’s surprise, Dr Indu Kaura, RAKCSC coordinator, refused to admit Ummeed’s sister... unless he was admitted too. In all her years at the Centre, the one thing Kaura had learnt was to not give up hope, to not ‘pass judgement too easily’… And that was how Ummeed’s light was not allowed to fade out and die.

And that was how the child – plagued by severe convulsions, constantly screaming and wailing – got enrolled as a full-fledged student at RAKCSC.
Kaura, who joined the Study Centre in 1975 after a Master’s in child development, followed up with a PhD, says she was sensitised through the course of her studies to the fact that each and every child – physically, mentally challenged or otherwise – has potential and “you have to have the ability to uncover it.”
The Centre works as a laboratory for those doing child development studies, preschool education for children with special needs and early childhood care and education – providing for theoretical as well as practical experience. Offering inclusive education since 1980, the Centre provides care and education to children with intellectual impairment, cerebral palsy, physical disabilities, auditory impairment, autism and behavioural disorders. The main thrust of the programme is to provide preschool experiences to the children, which help optimise their strengths and minimise their limitations.

Some schools take learning disabilities, too, as seriously as they would other ailments. Sakshi Arora, who works at Pathways World School in Gurgaon, makes individualised education plans for her learning-impaired students, assesses them, helps place them in colleges after completion of school and works out timings for remedial classes after consultations with regular teachers. “We help the teacher take the child to the optimum level,” says this BEd in special education from Lady Irwin College, who has also done a Master’s from the National Institute for the Mentally Handicapped in Secunderabad.
About the learning that one has to undergo, Anupama Diddle, another special educator at Pathways, who holds a Master’s degree in child development from Lady
Irwin College, says, “We are taught everything from the theory of disability to understanding every kind of disability people suffer from and the techniques to handle people suffering from such problems.” RAKCSC exposed her to realtime working with children while she was still studying.

About Pathways, Diddle says it’s an all-inclusive school and the educators are required to provide support to children inside the classroom. Since she is also involved in hiring special educators, she says they choose people who might not necessarily be trained in handling learning disabilities, but they have to have exposure to children with such disabilities and be open to new learnings in the school.

Teaching special children has its plus points. “My own attitude has broadened so much,” says Kaura, “to hear a mother come to me and talk about her daughter who day in and day out keeps talking about her friend who couldn’t walk once.”

Ummeed has been one of RAKCSC’s biggest miracles. A few years later, this boy who couldn’t even sit up, won three medals in the Special Olympics held in Delhi – two golds for 100 mtrs assist walk and softball, and one bronze for softball. Today he is no longer a part of this school because they can’t keep children beyond eight years of age, but the school is proud of its association with him.
* Name changed

What’s it about?
A special educator is trained in providing care and education to children with intellectual impairment, cerebral palsy, physical disabilities, auditory impairment, autism and behavioural and learning disorders. They help children optimise their strengths and minimise their limitations. You might get a job working in a school that encourages inclusive education and teach special children included in the mainstream. You can also be hired as an educator in a school and assist teachers in identifying children with learning disabilities or support and work with them as well as other children with more severe disabilities

Clock Work
8 am to 8. 25 am: Reach school, meet teachers, students
8.25 am: Go to class and check students I am supporting. Attend a few classes and assess child’s performance in each subject. Work out timings with the children I support to see when I can train them for remedial classes.
12.10 pm: Lunch
3. 20 pm: Regular classes
4. 15 pm onwards: School over
5 pm: Help kids with home work

The Payoff
A special educator can earn the same as a teacher at a primary level: About Rs 22,000 to Rs 25,000 a month
For trained, graduate teachers it can go up to Rs 30,000
Teachers under contract as per the Sarva Shiksha Abhyan get about Rs 9,000 a month. Some international schools pay over Rs 35,000 a month to special educators

Skills
. You should love children and be very skilled at handling them and take their problems/ behavioural disorders in your stride
. Should be well trained in identifying all kinds of behavioural disorders and providing remedial therapy
. Good communicative skills as you have to deal with parents too

How do i get there?
One can do home science at the school level. The National Council of Educational Research and Training has re-coined home science as human ecology because the general perception is that home science is all about cooking or dietitics. Now a number of male students too take up the subject. Humanities – with psychology as one of the subjects at the senior school level helps. Psychology or clinical psychology at the graduation level works too. You can do a B Ed in special education and follow it up with a Master’s in social work

Institutes & urls
. Indra Vidya Centre for Training in Special Education & Child Guidance Services, New Delhi
www.amarjyotirehab.org
. Lady Irwin College, New Delhi
www.ladyirwin.edu.in
(Rajkumari Amrit Kaur Child Study Centre)
. National Institute for the Mentally Handicapped, Secunderabad
www.nimhindia.org/

Pros & Cons
.

Great satisfaction can be derived from working with special children and being instrumental in improving their lives


.

At times it can be heartbreaking to see children not make progress

Forget quick results

You need time and patience to deal with special children

Do you feel we have an adequate number of schools and enough number of educators for special children? If not, what more needs to be done?
If you talk about India, then it’s a definite ‘No’. We do not have enough schools or educators – though the number is increasing. We have an early intervention programme and take in very young children – sometimes even when they are three months old! However, most of our students pass out of school at the age of eight. We do face a lot of difficulties placing the low-functioning children in other, so-called ‘normal schools’ which do not have the infrastructure or facilities to handle this category though it is not as bad as it was a decade ago. When it comes to educators, yes, I get a lot of applications. It is now seen as a lucrative profession. They are also seeing the possibility of entrepreneurship – when they can set up their own centres.

What should the mindset of students aspiring to be special educators be like?
You should have the belief that everything is possible. Do not come here thinking of instant rewards. Be open-minded, compassionate and someone who is not scared of challenges. You should not be very product-oriented or expect quick results. You deal with special children – they will take time to respond to your teaching and care. Don’t look for a lot of money and don’t be too rigid in your thinking.

Who hires the educators? Is there any scope for them to grow in their careers?
Schools do. They can also start their own training centres. Those doing speech therapy, occupational therapy can be hired by hospitals and clinics or again start their own clinics and earn quite a lot as private practitioners.

Does RAKCSC have special criteria for selection of children?
In this school, every child who applies has a right to admission. We have never screened the children or their families. The special educators who work with us realise that they have to work with an open mind when it comes to their pupils. They have to reorient their thinking to the child’s thinking and get down to his/her level of functioning .

Are more parents coming to you now seeking help for their children?
I have been seeing that reawakening. Parents are far more receptive to special education for their children now. I tell them to come quickly to us and not waste time till the child turns six. Our early intervention programme, SETU (Systematic Early Training Unit), admits children from birth, or even a three-month-old. It helps us identify and get started on training children from a very early age.

Indu Kaura interviewed by Ayesha Banerjee