Posted by Charu Singh, Noida, Uttar Pradesh
“The wound is the place where the light enters your soul”- said Rumi, the famous 13th century Persian poet.
The pandemic and the resulting unprecedented lockdown has led to learning with a capital ‘L’ for all of us. With this year’s many discoveries and disruptions, it is widely accepted now that ‘to learn, one needs to unlearn.’ Hence, I decided to weave the narrative of this story around the four lessons we have unlearnt!
While the lockdown was hailed by some as a momentous pause in the hectic race of our modern lives, it opened the proverbial Pandora’s box of troubles for others. The anxiety and helplessness took a much more serious dimension for people with special needs and their families.
Being housebound meant that they were robbed of the consistency of their schedule, the support of the therapy and training sessions and the familiarity of their learning modules and surroundings. It also meant that they lost access to their much needed physical exercise that helps them channelise their energy and keep calm.
For their families, it implied the absence of their lifeline – support from therapists, counsellors and caregivers. This meant that the parents had to single handedly look after their special children 24×7. The situation was even more dismal for single mothers. Some of them were victims of domestic abuse and were forced to support their child and themselves – often hanging by a thread, as their incomes reduced or disappeared completely. Added to this was the physical aggression of the special-needs children who were trapped inside their special minds.
Lesson unlearnt #1
At our Centre for Autism and Special Needs, Noida we had to act and act quick – adapting to the digital medium overnight as many others. The first lesson we unlearnt was that trainings and therapies for special needs children were best done in person. Seasoned special educators struggled with, and then mastered the technical skills for conducting online sessions. While the new tech savvy ones battled with slow pace of net connections and “Mute-Unmute” games, our curriculum grew into a 9-5 day. A typical day began with morning assembly, activity sessions and extended to individualised trainings and classes. While, some screens showed expertly created presentations – some others showed spontaneous improvisations!
The success of the classes led to many new students and families reaching out for support. Even while the teachers were becoming more confident each day, we clearly needed more helping hands and this led to our greatest discovery and the central plot of this story.
Lesson unlearnt #2
Youth is wasted on the young – is an adage attributed to G.B. Shaw. We often live in the smug belief that the youth of today live in bubbles of self-absorption. Their self-image is manifested on their social media handles and their world view is clouded by affectations of brands and price tags. Alas! Their tinted glasses mostly display fleeting affections!
The second lesson we learnt was that given the right opportunity, this very youth level up and their tinted glasses come alive with a heightened social consciousness and singularity of purpose.
When we posted our vacancies – in a matter of days, we were approached by an enthusiastic and compassionate bunch of young educators who swarmed into our faculty and coloured it with the delightful tint of fresh outlook. With the gentle steering of the senior faculty who readily shared their insights and experiences, our new faculty members moved from strength to strength. Some talented digital content editors and creators helped us conduct awareness campaigns, art shows and fund raising drives on social media platforms.
Lesson unlearnt #3
Persons on the autism spectrum are unwilling learners – this myth is for the world to unlearn! Burdened with comparisons, our children with autism are labelled as slow learners or mistaken as having intellectual challenges. In fact, they have highly developed cognitive abilities.
As our days got busier, our students started thriving. These committed young educators started conducting subject classes for the NIOS curriculum, skill classes for creative production, sensory and motor skill therapies and activities like yoga, music, dance, art and cooking! With parents becoming an extension of the teaching process, learning grew exponentially.
Lessons unlearnt #4 – persons on the autism spectrum don’t connect with people quickly. They are not capable of forming social relationships.
We learnt that if taught with the right technique and motivation, they can learn to develop meaningful social relationships and adapt to new social rules.
Our pure hearted students have formed deep bonds with the new entrants. The fun-filled banter that fills the classes is a sheer delight. Our students got the opportunity of frequent social interactions and acquired valuable social skills. The students are gently guided to be disciplined and polite in these interactions. It is these very interpersonal bonds (often assumed to be challenges and hence limitations of an autistic mind) that form the warp and woof of our institute’s fabric.
The numerous testimonials that trickle in every day and the new students that join our tribe every month hold testament to the selflessness of today’s youth. It took the ‘pause’ of the pandemic for us to see our young educators and interns express and practice the very love and inclusion we yearn to see in our world.
I close with another quote of Rumi’- “Let the water settle and you will see the moon and the stars mirrored in your own being.”
The author is the senior member of the Advisory Board of Sunrise Learning Foundation. She expresses her heartfelt gratitude to the amazing team of educators and therapists at the Centre for Autism and Special Needs founded by Dr. Sonali Kataria and Dr. Ajay Sirohi.
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Story Images: Author
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