Posted by Dr. Amrapali Lahiri, New Delhi
March 2020: The month began with the usual planning of therapies and planning for celebration of the first festival of the year “Holi.” Most of our kids enjoy the colourful celebration and look forward to the outing we do for the colour play. In the first week of the month, the impact of coronavirus began to show. We as professionals became more aware of extra hygiene protocols and started using sanitizers and gloves in our sessions. Holi was a muted celebration under the shadow of the virus.
I started to think, how to provide therapy inputs as many of the children who were using public transport began to avoid the sessions. By 20th March, we decided to close down the centre till 31st March 2020. To tide over this period, we took the initiative to train the parent’s hands-on so that the children would not suffer. What helped in this situation was the fact that I had been running online therapy sessions since 2013 for a few outstation organisations, wherein the professionals were facilitating at their end as I guided the program from here. Thinking along the same lines, we offered to guide the parents for the ten days of leave.
April 2020: It became evident, that the virus was here to stay and therapies had to be administered differently. The Initial days were quite chaotic as I seemed to be more on the phone and laptop trying to figure out technicalities rather than doing therapy. Since there weren’t many queries about online sessions, the entire team was at a loose end. We took the step to train as a team, to plan and execute sessions via an online medium. The first panic call came in the second week of April at 9:30 pm from a mother “Ma’am please suggest something, S hasn’t slept for the last 32 hours. He seems to be okay but I am ready to collapse.” I suggested we do a live online session the next day and she agreed. I spent a sleepless night thinking how would I do a session from my home without any equipment and the same at their end. I wondered what I could use as a demo. An old tattered teddy bear became my best friend for the sessions and the classes started rolling. The session was administered with modified things from home. After 3 intensive sessions, the sleep issues were resolved. This was the much needed boost for me to design home-based solutions using household items.
May and June 2020: the days progressed the team utilised their creativity and we had a rich repertoire of activities. Each of us started compiling and sharing our learnings. This helped us arrive at standard protocols for home-based therapies. The biggest difficulty was to work with children with physical challenges. It would often get frustrating to explain the positions and holds online. So, this time I needed a human model. My son came to my rescue and thus started another journey. With the different online models of therapy, suddenly the world shrunk and we were approached from different parts of the country and the world. I also realised that the geographical limitations existed in our minds only. Now, we were accessible to people far and wide who would earlier plan months in advance, book tickets, hotels and stay at a new place for a week/ month just for therapy. The only challenge we had now was managing the time zones as we were seeing children across the globe! Also, another hurdle was to have team meetings, wherein all the team members were available!!
After the initial hiccups, in about 3 months, I was able to arrive at certain fixed models which could be administered as standard protocols. An eye-opener in this journey had been the transparency at the student’s home front as well as the therapists’ front. It has helped to mutually respect each other’s domain. It has taken us inside homes to resolve behavioural issues and sometimes to facilitate better understanding among family members.
I would like to share an anecdote that brings a smile to my face, one of my students would be a perfect child in sessions but there would be troublesome later. A couple of random video calls convinced her “Ma’am is watching” and the complaints from the mother reduced. One fine day, the mother called in an anxious tone and asked “Why have you changed your display Picture on WhatsApp? Now she’s troubling again” I was completely taken aback and quickly complied to the request with a smile.
July 2020: Finally, the day came when we got permission to reopen the centre however, we had no students. The first one to join back was a little one all of twelve months of age. I had last seen him at six months of age, pre lockdown. The parents were very concerned as the child had physical delays and the four months had not helped him to move forward. This set me thinking, I reached out to all the little ones I was seeing under the age of twelve months to see how they were doing. It turned out, some of them were stuck in terms of their motor milestones. This was probably the push that was needed to start the physical sessions again. Hence on 20th July 2020, we resumed classes with two of our youngest members with a completely new and different style of working.
The pandemic has been a challenge, a teacher and an eye-opener in many ways. We have learnt to value and respect freedom and movement. We have learnt to believe in Barack Obama’s quote- “We are the change that we seek.”
Amrapali is the founder of Milestones, a multi-disciplinary organization serving families of children with special needs in Delhi-NCR since 2008. With more than 20 years of experience of working with children with autism and developmental disabilities, she currently oversees the team of therapists for the clinical and home program section of Milestones.
Cover Image : The Milestone Society
Story Images: Author
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