World Autism Day: Need attitude change besides provisions
One out of 65 children within the age group of 2-9 years in India have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a underdevelopment disorder, stated a 2017 report by the Indian Academy of Paediatrics whose Pune branch is currently taking efforts to spread awareness about the same.
According to the study, a number of limitations and challenges are faced by students with autism spectrum disorder or other learning disabilities (LD), in terms of schooling and social inclusion. On World Autism Day, Hindustan Times takes a deeper look into these challenges, with respect to the special provisions laid out by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).
According to Pune-based psychotherapist, Mini Nair, despite surging awareness which led to introduction of special provision in Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (ICSE) and CBSE, the overall outlook of schools towards students with learning disabilities is yet to be reformed.
Also a mother of a seven-year-old daughter diagnosed with neurological deficiency, Nair had to skip several schools over the years, moving from Jorhat, Assam, to Pune in search of a school with sensitive environment for her daughter.
“While most schools advertise, not many are truly inclusive. Not more than 10-15 schools in India are actually equipped and sensitive enough for all kinds of children. Now she studies in the Orchid School (TOS), Baner, which is fairly doing a good job, but inclusivity, sensitivity and the right attitude starts from the watchman of the school to the principle,” she added.
Director of Orchid School, Lakshmi Kumar, on being inclusive, said, “It should not be an option for a school, but a professional, moral and ethical obligation. Special provisions are made for diagnosed students, and particular care is taken not to demoralise them by expecting or assessing them in ways in which they are incapable of delivering.”
Another parent, Ritu Goyal whose 14-year-old son now studies at DLRC Drive Change Learning & Resource Centre, Baner, and was an ex-student of TOS, said, “My son has benefited from the combination of special care and normalisation he received in the respective schools,” she said. DLRC, has involved innovative, relatable and out-of-the-classroom methods to help students learn and not just know any subject.
Social exclusion as another limitation, especially in school environment, 2016 ICSE Class 10 boards topper Akshay Shanbhag, diagnosed with borderline autism spectrum at the age of two said, “I was asked to leave the school after an incident of misbehaviour on grounds of being undisciplined, even after my parents presented my diagnosis reports. The school wouldn't acknowledge its existence at all and rather treat it like an excuse.”
Harbouring a dream for scientific research in Mathematics, later in 2017, Shanbhag went to win a scholarship from Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojna (KVPY), with an all-India second rank in PWD category.
According to the CBSE provisions, students with learning disability can drop a subject, apply for a writer during exams and get extra time.While parents appreciate benefits of the existing provisions for their children, most say they lack a holistic approach.
The Shanbhag parents believe the reforms have been inflexible in CBSE. Their son who was previously at an ICSE school was allowed to give exams through a monitored and restricted laptop, due to his writing disability. “The provision of providing a writer was inadequate due to his speech limitations. However, despite several attempts to reach out to CBSE officials and the HRD minister Javadekar, to introduce the same in CBSE, we have failed,” said father, Prakash Shanbhag.
For others, like Pavan Iyengar, teacher and co-founder of DLRC, teaching differently is an alternative to dropping of a subject. “Teachers need to realise that these students are not dumb, they are just different. For instance, to eliminate the fear of learning a vernacular, including Hindi, we give our students practical assignments, like exploring local markets and speaking to the vendors and bargaining with Hindi or Marathi-speaking sellers.”