Rohith (23), was travelling in the bus along with his mother Ms. Prema. Rohith, a neurodivergent adult, gets spurts of hyperactive energy. While in the bus, he started breathing noisily, exhaling loud puffs of air through his mouth. A lady in the bus, bothered by this behaviour, was quick to rudely call him “paagal” (crazy).
Now, if this scenario was played out with someone who doesn’t have special needs, it would have led to an argument or a ruckus on the bus. However, Rohith here has autism. The lady, without understanding the cause behind his behaviour, commented on it insensitively.
Consider this situation – Nikhil, (25) was diagnosed with a chromosomal anomaly in his childhood. When he was a kid, Nikhil’s mother Ms. Bernie was accompanying him to a children’s play area at the beach. There was another mother-son pair at the play area. It didn’t occur to Ms. Bernie that a clash had broken out between the two boys over a chance at playing with a toy. Suddenly, the mother of the boy erupted out of nowhere and started shouting at Nikhil. Ms. Bernie apologised to the mother to cool the matter. “I got more emotional than the kids,” she recalled. “You need to realise that you’re handling a kid with special needs and you need to be a little more careful of the environment. Not everybody’s going to be kind and inclusive.” She added, while narrating the incident.
These aren’t just standalone incidents. Every person with special needs you’ve met has probably faced some or the other challenge in public spaces. Due to lack of awareness, there’s also a lack of sensitivity and inclusivity for people with special needs, especially in public spaces.
Brushing up on the Basics
We at Amogh are trying to change that. The first step is bringing awareness among people about the different types of neurodevelopmental disorders or NDs that exist. What are NDs you may ask? Let’s brush up on the basics.
Disabilities that are related to how the neurological system and brain function are categorised as a neurodevelopmental disorder. Individuals with NDs may face challenges with respect to their psychomotor skills, communication skills, behaviour, memory and other neurological functions that may come easily to most of us. These challenges come forward in various permutations and combinations and may change, evolve or even become permanent over time.
There are five recognized types of NDs:
As per a study conducted by INCLEN Trust International in 2018, in India alone, one in every eight children has at least one neurodevelopmental condition. Researchers however, have admitted that this statistics is conservative and the actual numbers are far higher. Despite the widespread prevalence of NDs, awareness levels in the country are rather abysmal. It is crucial to understand that individuals with NDs are very much a part of our society and it is important to support them and accept them in the right way. Even to this day, there are structural flaws at the very preliminary stage that make spaces preclusive for people with special needs.
Inclusivity at Amogh
There is a focus on all-round development at Amogh. By keeping our students engaged in various activities like yoga, music, art and dance classes, we provide stimulation to the students. We also ensure flexibility by making our students try their hands at different things. It gives them the freedom to pick and choose any skill-based activity of their choice to continue and excel in.
Not only students, but people from all walks of life come together to help fulfil the aspirations of the students here. “It’s very much a community driven initiative. We have homemakers, parents, office-goers, retired folks all coming and helping us out,” said Jayashree Vaitheeswaram, Founder-Managing Trustee at Amogh. “Even the local ecosystem is involved, with people in the colony renting out their Hall/Auditorium for Yoga sessions or performances”, she added.
For the students at Amogh it’s all about having that close-knit family that they get to spend their time with everyday. For someone like Nikhil, who gets anxious about separation, his friends and teachers here are like his family. Any time he’s away for a long weekend or a holiday, his first thoughts are, “I’m missing my friends, when will I go back?”
Inclusivity in Public Spaces
Ms. Bernie emphasised on the fact that the biggest change has to show up in the mindset of people. She observes that people today are more responsive and friendlier than they were a decade back. “People notice that my boy has challenges but they don’t give those sharp reactions anymore. There is more awareness now in India. We still have a long way to go but things are definitely better than before,” she says.
The truth is that most neurodivergent people want to provide value to the companies they work for and also get value in return. Here are a few tips to bring in more inclusivity at the workplace:
In a country like India, special educators are limited and a curriculum that could educate children about the existence of peers with different abilities is lacking. According to Ms. Prema, all schools should provide knowledge about people with special needs. Teachers should also be trained and equipped to handle kids with special needs. People with baseline, or less intense forms of neurodivergence should not be denied admissions.
She believes that along with advertisements and promotions for kindergartens or private schools, schools and institutions that cater to people with special needs should also be promoted equally. Here are some tips for teachers and special educators to be mindful of their teaching methods:
Role of Parents
Care for a special needs child/adult begins at home. For parents, it’s about adaptivity as much as it is about enforcing rules or routines. Take for example, the case of G.H. Shivakumar, father of Harshitha (22). It’s his first time volunteering at Amogh. He was the father who’d solely drop and pick up his daughter at the centre. Eventually, one of the teachers here requested him to get more involved and lend a helping hand to prepare Diwali orders. According to him, being actively involved in her routine and keeping a watchful eye over his child is key in ensuring that she stays on the right path. Mr. Shivakumar is one of those parents, who took a sabbatical from his job, to be a part of his daughter’s journey at Amogh.
Parents at Amogh however, never give up on the hope and faith they have on their children. They believe that the right learning environment and right approach do wonders in improving the productivity of people with special needs.
The need of the hour is to simply acknowledge that people with special needs are around us and should be included as any other individual. Supporting them and rendering the right resources allows for their upliftment and inclusion in an equitable manner.