Mrs. Radha Ganesan is a special educator who has worked with students with autism, ADHD, LD, Developmental delays. With 30 years of work experience in this field, she has valuable lessons to share.
All children have abilities in them. For children with disabilities, you have to discover it for them. They are just not able to unravel it. That is why I don’t call it a Disability. I call it This-Ability.
The Art of Teaching is the Art of Assisting Discovery
I feel children who grow normally we call them normal or regular. I don’t use the word normal because when they are regular, the development takes in such a way that they are able to do things on their own.
With children with disabilities, you have to discover it for them. You have to discover their ability. That’s why I don’t call it a disability. I call it this-ability.
They have some ability with them. They are just not able to unravel it. Training for them is unraveling their ability. Training for them is teaching them what is right .They have the potential. You have to believe that they have the potential and work on it.
Tips & tricks to a new parent/ teacher of a child with a disability
I believe in the philosophy of every child can do something. It all depends on the type of disability. Acceptance of any disability is very important for any mother or any teacher. . If there is a parent who comes newly diagnosed, I tell them that there is light at the end of the channel. Believe in your child that they can do it. Acceptance of the child and believing in the child is important.
It all depends on how intensely you work. If you work intensely on the disability making them better, overcome the disability, you can make them much better. Its not a disease to be cured. Its a condition, you really sometimes can’t cure it, but you can definitely make them better. I have seen in my children who came for training, they have never been to regular school. At the age of 19–22, I placed them in a multinational company. They are drawing a salary. I believed in them. I believed that they can overcome and they will be able to. It all depends on the severity of the problem. If the problem is so severe, it is difficult to overcome thoroughly, For those, I would say, the basic needs of life they would be able to do. Otherwise, we have students outside, never been to a regular school, but now they are getting 25,000 salaries. That means they have been accepted. it’s a slow process.
That is why I call it Swabodhini because Swabodhini means empowering self-learning, To teach oneself. To empower them with the skills, to make them do much better in life. They are not what they are today, when they were born or when they were young. So a parent or teacher should understand that they can take them to a different level. One should have that hope. You must have hope. If you don’t have hope you cannot come up in life.
It’s acceptance, then the training is easier. Give hope but not false hopes. Don’t say everything is going to be fine. There are going to be problems. but still, with your intense training, it is going to be much better.
Special education needs are barely addressed? How to Bridge the gap?
Depending on each child and depending on each disability, you have to provide them different materials. I know there are lots, but not like what you have for mainstream education, that needs to improve. I feel even the teaching materials, are much better for the younger ones. When it comes to young adults, whatever the disability is, I feel that is not addressed. The real kind of training is not addressed. what necessary for the children is not addressed. I feel the skill training is important. I feel skill training is something which is lacking. and that will help students to engage themselves later in life. For example, right from the age of 14, we work on skill training. We run an own grocery store, for children who are non-verbal, who can’t have a future. We are the first to start a retail store for special needs. We empower the mothers so they can start something, even if they don’t speak it doesn’t matter. They still can do sorting and stacking.
If they are good at cognitive they can work on a calculator, computers, they can work on the inventory. There are so many things that they can do. So we have found areas where children can be trained according to their skill set, according to their interest. They can be trained to be dignified members of society. Somewhere you can place them. Somewhere you can engage them. I believe in supported employment. That’s something that is not happening now across disability. They cant go and exist in a company separately unless your abilities are much better or have border problems. Then they can exist in. They can work in an open environment. So I feel these kinds of things will help them to be more productive when they grow older.
If it hasn't been in the hand and the body, It can't be in the Brain
I believe in different teaching approaches. I always believe in a different level of teaching. When you talk about multi-sensory tools or resources I believe that it will really help with any children with any kind of disability. When I say multi-sensory, what I mean is visual media, audio where some children can listen, Tactile elements where the children can touch and feel.
We use some visual media because they don’t have to look at faces. Because some kids with autism don’t like to see the face and react.Where as visual media, it draws applause. we use visual media a lot. we use I pads sometime. Even the occupational therapist, they believe in sensory diet. For example,10–15 years ago, to teach counting we make paper cups. we make a base out of chart with ten holes, , what we would do is we ask the kid to count and put the cups in the holes. He looks at it, He touches it, He feels it.He puts it in the hole and counts it.That is multi-sensory stuff.so those are the types of things we used to devise for our children. So I believe in this approach.
Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning
I believe in making learning fun. I teach concepts differently. When you teach them across the table, it won’t work. They need a different approach,multi-model approach. For example,I teach counting numbers using staircase. I ask them to jump on the steps when I ask for different numbers. We do different kinds of activities to make it fun for them. I also believe in the kinesthetic approach. I feel learn through play is very very important. A lot of concepts can be taught in that way.No body has done much work in this field. We may need to think of resources where you can learn through play.
Need to give importance for skill development
When we talk about innovations in this space, there are lots of research going on in the field of disability, how to overcome it etc., That is fine. But knowing them is more intellectual. Countries abroad they have done a lot of research. They have lots of teaching materials. But whereas in India,We have to be more creative. Much more has to come. Like a curriculum, we have devised a curriculum for teaching that includes computer, skills, culinary etc., When you have a curriculum it is easy to make the materials.When you know this is the concept you want to introduce, then you can think of a lot of ways to teach the concepts. When you have a basic curriculum or a skeleton of a curriculum then it is easier. From here you can go to the next step like, What is the next step you teach? So what do you need for that? What kind of learning material will be useful? and how do you drive home that point to the child? For example, in occupational therapy, we use a barrel to teach gravity. If you tell a child not to lean on a wall, How do you teach them? Because you can’t teach it across the table. They would not understand. We have a barrel, when you roll them and as it going to topple on the other side, you are going to hold on. There comes a sense of gravity. They know that the moment you are going to fall you hold back. There are a lot of concepts that will come only if you start teaching particular concepts. Then you will have to device. When you have a skeleton of the curriculum then it is easier to know what kind of resources to get introduced to.
Behind every young child who believes in himself is a parent who believed first
Parents believing in their children is very important. We do parent training especially for daily activities. How to teach the kids etc., Again and again, believing in a child is important. Positivity and acceptance are really important. The earlier they accept, the easier the training is. Parents have to undergo the training, to know functionally how to go about it. To partner and collaborate with the schools is necessary, so that they do the things the same as the school does and the progress and the development is much faster. A parent’s role is very very important. It gives a sense that people are there to help me. It is a collaborative effort of the child, parent, and school.
Being a Role model is a privilege
When they have different disabilities like we have ADHD, Down Syndrome, autism, in the same class, then one becomes the role model. The Down Syndrome kid has very good social skills, Then they will be the role model. and then we play activities in the afternoon as groups. There are certain concepts you can introduce them as a group. because most of them need it. Even walking on the road, going to the shop, etc., Functional literacy is something you can do it as a group. Lots of concepts you can introduce that way.
For example, we have a lot of experiential learning. Crossing the road, Numbers on the house, using the lock, etc., We have a board with lots of locks.so that they will learn to address each of them. These are the functional stuff where a group of children can be engaged. I never believe in sticking to one methodology and teach. Then there are no role models. They are in their own world. Then how do you connect them? Unless you have children with other disabilities, they have some areas which are they are good at, you cannot engage them together.
Message for our readers
It is a great feel to work with children with special needs. It is so satisfying, gratifying, there is so much to teach. There are no borders or limits to it. And I feel, again and again, empathize with the fact that these children are important. These students are important. They have dignity. I believe in the word dignity. I call all my project dignity. bringing dignity to their lives. You have to address the community and say look, there are so many other things in the world that you are lucky with. So you have to keep reinforcing the fact that anybody can get anything anytime. It’s not just for a population.
I think it is important that the community as a large need to play a role. And also acceptance of the child and standing up for the child is really important for any parent or a teacher. Always lobbying for the best. If a child is not speaking. Not speaking doesn’t mean that the children have nothing to say.They do have and when they do not express themselves, we become the ambassadors. I believe in that.