City based gynaecologist Neelam Sodhi who runs an NGO Ashirwad, home for special children is a fine example of grit and determination. Neelam’s awe inspiring story features this week on the Facebook page of the Ludhiana administration titled ‘Idols of Ludhiana.’
Born in Ahmedabad and married in Ludhiana since 1991, this woman’s world was shattered when her 12 month old son, who was born premature, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Her initial reaction was a mix of shock, surprise and grief. “We did not understand much about the implications of cerebral palsy except that our son needed therapy and the future was uncertain. Also, that we as parents had a tremendous responsibility to see that his future remained bright and secure,” she recalls.
Her positivity and neverending determination to make her son succeed in life, bore fruit and her son is now pursuing M Tech from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Allahabad and is totally self dependent.
Neelam, vowed to inspire and motivate others, runs an NGO for special children in the city.
“Cerebral Palsy occurs due to lack of oxygen at the time of birth causing damage to the brain. His premature birth and the few seconds of delayed cry also played catalyst in the adverse condition. “God probably selected us to be his parents because we were capable of shouldering this responsibility,” she says.
Neelam decided to take the challenge head on and became her son’s physiotherapist and occupational therapist as there were no services available in Ludhiana at that time. “I used to travel to Ahmedabad or Delhi often for assessment, therapy and medical consultations,” she recalls.
Keeping the fact in mind that maximum brain development occurs till the age of 5, Neelam gave her best to ensure her son’s brain stimulation so as to give him a good start in life.
Facing the challenge of imparting education to her child
“He started playschool at the age of two when one day the teacher who was otherwise impressed with his verbal skills, told us that he was facing difficulty in drawing a circle. We were forced to acknowledge that education for our son might be a huge challenge,” she said.
“I took this challenge of dealing with my son’s education as an opportunity to acquire the skills to teach him concepts of math and science and the foundation of language in the manner he could learn.
However, it was not easy to deal with the multiple responsibilities that awaited her as a busy obstetrician, a wife, a daughter in law and a mother who was fighting against all odds to give her son his rightful place in the world.
When strangers stopped to ask “Is your child like this from birth,” when school teachers asked me “is he mentally retarded?,” when I was told to shift him from mainstream school to a special school as he was not fit to study with normal children, it became clear that society needed to be sensitised about the abilities of children like my son to make inclusion a reality.
This was probably the life changing moment for her. “I was motivated to set up the NGO for children with cerebral palsy who needed special education and individualised therapy to become independent and an integral part of society,” she said.
She joined hands with other parents and philanthropists and created ‘The North India Cerebral Palsy Association’ and NGO ‘Ashirwad.’
“We started Ashirwad with three children and one therapist, providing in-house rehabilitation services. We also made an intensive effort to sensitise doctors, schools, administration and society in general about different types of disabilities, need of early intervention, inclusion of children with special needs in the mainstream schools, classroom teaching methods and abilities of people with disabilities,” she says.
The NGO is working with 60 special children and is a well established name in city.Her hard work bore fruit and today her son is pursuing M Tech from IIT Allahabad and is now self dependent.