Story Time

By Radhika Menon

It was story time again at PRAYATNA! This time we decided to take the kids around the world. We travelled to each continent and discovered a few of its epics. Apart from Ramayana and Mahabharata, the kids were introduced to some world famous epics like Iliad, Odyssey, Gilgamish, Cana and Popol Vuh.
The activities of the book club were designed to make children understand what an epic was. The session jump started with a reading of Vyasa’s Mahabharat. The kids paid attention to every line that was read out. A quiz was, based on the book, was conducted and all the kids responded fervently.
In the next activity, the children were handed some picture cards which had to be arranged to form a story. The kids then came up and narrated a story based on the pictures given to them. The children were given notepads to pen down their thoughts. Perhaps, their writing pursuits would one day result in a great epic!

(Radhika Menon is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)



Dealing with Other Kids: Sibling and Peer Issues

Kushal Talgeri

Siblings and peers-we love them, at times hate them, but we most definitely can’t do without them. This year’s parent forum was targeted at equipping parents with some strategies for dealing with sibling issues and bullying at school. Through role plays and group discussions, parents were encouraged to illustrate examples of challenges they faced at home in rearing more than one child. Most cited accusations of being partial and of giving more time to one child and difficulties with sharing limited resources. They also brainstormed on solutions for these issues and came up with some creative ones.

We then shared some principles of dealing with sibling issues based on those outlined in the book Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish. With examples of conversations between parents and children, we explained how it was important that siblings have their feelings about each other acknowledged and to understand that they cannot engage in hurtful actions and instead express their anger in acceptable ways. Parents were also alerted to the fact that we need to strongly resist our immediate reactions, the ones that come automatically to us like comparing siblings, trying to treat them equally and stereotyping children into set roles. Instead, we have to focus on the wrong behaviour, treat each child uniquely and help kids to replace wrong behaviour with appropriate ones. Parents were then encouraged to apply these principles to the situations that were role played earlier and they did so quite well. Parents were then reminded that these strategies may not come magically to us overnight but that we may practice a couple of them frequently and eventually they may become second nature to us.

We then touched upon the topic of children who have one or more siblings with difficulties. From Mary McHugh’s book, Special Siblings, parents were given some suggestions to help them deal with their environment at home where one child may have special needs. They were told that each child needed time alone with parents and that it was important to look for ways to give each child special attention, to allow kids to ask questions if another child has a problem and to give accurate information in a child-appropriate way. It is also crucial that as a family, we adopt a healthy problem-solving style and appreciate accomplishments of all our children. McHugh also mentions in her book that growing up with a sibling with special needs has its positives, making one tolerant and optimistic being just a couple of them.

The other aspect the forum addressed was bullying. Some parents shared some heart-wrenching instances when their children were bullied. Parents were told that it was crucial that they develop a close bond with their children so that they open up easily to them if they are bullied. To make this possible, each parent was encouraged to spend 10-15 minutes doing what the child wanted without any instructions or criticism and also as a family, discuss one good and one bad thing that happened to them everyday; it was heartening to hear a parent mention that they had tried out these tips and that they had worked effectively in helping their child open up to them. Parents were alerted to the signs that a child is being bullied-school refusal over a period of time, sudden behavioural changes, sudden drop in school performance, trouble sleeping or eating to name a few. Through role plays, we then shared some strategies to help children handle bullying. While emphasising that no form of bullying should be tolerated, parents were encouraged to teach their children to be assertive, to consider their own behaviour, to avoid situations in which the bully maybe provoked, to simply ignore the bully and to seek help from friends, school counsellor and/or parents.

We hope that parents find the tips we shared useful, experiment with them and give us feedback on how effective they find them.

(Kushal Talgeri is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)



Knowledge knows no boundaries

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

First published in Education Plus, THE HINDU, 9 February 2015

The disciplinary boundaries between the arts and sciences are set in stone in most Indian colleges, both literally and metaphorically. The pure sciences and related disciplines like microbiology, electronics and nanotechnology are typically housed in a separate building from departments like English, history and journalism. Further, once a student opts for a particular stream, he can bid farewell to studying subjects offered by the other. Very few colleges in India offer programs that allow students to transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries between the Arts and Sciences. And due to this narrow, streamlined mindset, many students hold misconceptions about a Liberal Arts education, even when they are applying to foreign universities.

Students who are inclined towards the sciences and related fields tend to eschew applying to programs that offer a Liberal Arts education. However, the rationale for this decision is misplaced as one can avail of an excellent Science education in a liberal arts college. What Liberal Arts entails is that a student takes courses across multiple disciplines while specializing or majoring in a subject of one’s choice. Thus, a student can major in chemistry but has to take a prerequisite number of courses across an array of disciplines ranging from anthropology to women’s studies to philosophy.

“But what is the point of taking courses unrelated to my field?” a student may rightly ask. This question is more likely to be posed by someone who is certain of her choice of subject. For example, Pavitra is quite certain she wants to do a Ph.D. in particle physics in the long term. “Why,” she asks, “must I endure tracts of Shakespeare and Marx when I disliked English and economics in school?” A person who harbours such strong sentiments is indeed likely to benefit from a broader and more rounded education precisely because she is so set in her views. I am not disputing the fact that Pavitra likes some subjects over others; her views may only intensify after she takes a mandatory English or philosophy or psychology course. But as an undergraduate, she is still too young to necessarily know or understand the breadth and scope of fields and the undergraduate years are an excellent time to sample what different fields have to offer. Often, content covered in school is of a rather basic nature and a student may not really get a grip on what a field entails unless she studies it at a more advanced level. While it is not possible for any student to take courses in all disciplines, sampling a broader variety of courses can guide youngsters towards a path that is more akin to their interests.

Furthermore, taking courses across disciplines can help you view your own subject from a new lens. When I was in high school, I disliked biology. What I didn’t know, at that time, was that I probably didn’t like the subject because I had three different teachers teaching it in the span of a year. As a result, I did not opt for biology in Grade XI & XII, choosing electronics instead. However, once I got to college and pursued psychology, I realized that I was more drawn towards biology than I had initially thought. When studying how the mind works and why people behave in certain ways, I realized that an understanding of the brain was essential. Thus, when I started reading about the brain as a college student, I experienced a twinge of regret for having given up on biology too soon.

Moreover, disciplinary boundaries are not as opaque or rigid as we are normally led to believe. After all, knowledge knows no boundaries. Fields that differ substantively from another, may actually use one another’s methods. For example, Matthew Jockers, an assistant professor of English at the University of Nebraska, relies on digital tools to analyse trends, themes and patterns in literary tomes. He relies on algorithms to sieve through texts. Likewise, the interdisciplinary field of neuroeconomics uses the methods and tools of neuroscience, psychology and behavioral economics to understand how humans make economic decisions.

Thus, while students of the humanities may benefit from taking courses in science, the scientists may also expand their view of the universe through the prism of historians, biographers and philosophers. In his biography of the eminent scientist, Walter Isaacson writes that Einstein was asked by the New York State Education Department on what schools should give importance to. The most influential physicist responded that students should learn history, especially how influential thinkers shaped the course of humanity.

So what do you do if you are enrolled in an undergraduate program that does not allow students to take courses across disciplines? In order to expand the frontiers of your mind, you may read a wide variety of books not related to your field of study. Further, you do not have to opt for dry, academic books, but can choose from an array of popular non-fiction books to get an insight into the kinds of questions studied in various fields. In almost every discipline, there are an abundant number of books written for laypersons by experts that avoid unnecessary technical jargon. These books are generally easy to comprehend and can give you a flavour of what questions a field asks and the methods it adopts to study them. If your curiosity is piqued by a particular idea, you can always delve further.

Edward Ray, President, Oregon State University, describes the results of a national survey of American employers in The Huffington Post. 93% of surveyed employers felt that a candidate’s undergraduate specialization was less relevant than his or her ability “to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems.” And taking courses across disciplines or at least reading widely can help students see and seek more distant horizons.

(The author is Director, PRAYATNA.)



Look for the ability in disability

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

First Published in Mint, 9 December 2014

Focusing on deficits only makes individuals seem inadequate. Find out what their special abilities are and help them use those as strengths

Children struggle to learn in mainstream classrooms for a host of reasons. Difficulty with reading and spelling, an inability to pay attention, and problems with comprehension are some of the reasons. Those failing to meet teacher expectations are often referred to special educators or psychologists, who dole out labels like “dyslexic,” “ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)” or “autism spectrum disorder”. While these labels may describe and explain a child’s difficulty, they stigmatize the child.

The portrayal of these labels, both in education circles and popular culture, highlights what these children cannot do. Some preliminary research suggests that the brains of these individuals may be wired differently to confer certain advantages as well. In a study published in 2003 in the Brain And Language journal, Catya von Károlyi and her fellow researchers found that dyslexics were better at a global visual-spatial task. More specifically, those with dyslexia were faster at determining whether certain figures were possible or not.

Research by Gad Geiger and Jerome Lettvin, published in the New England Journal Of Medicine in 1987, found that dyslexics had a wider visual peripheral field in which they were able to accurately identify letters, but showed compromised performance in the central field and near periphery. Another paper also suggests that dyslexics may have an advantage when it comes to their peripheral field. In a 2007 paper published in the Mind, Brain, And Education journal, Matthew Schneps, L. Todd Rose and Kurt Fischer hypothesize that dyslexic and normal readers make varying use of their central versus peripheral visions. While our central vision is tailored for visual search tasks, our peripheral vision is better able to scan broad areas rapidly. According to the authors, dyslexics may be more adept at making visual comparisons; however, the “trade-off” is that their visual search capabilities are diminished.

In their 2012 book, The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking The Hidden Potential Of The Dyslexic Brain, Brock L. Eide and Fernette F. Eide say the visual-spatial strengths of dyslexics are more pronounced in real-world 3D tasks, like navigating objects in space, than the 2D paper and pencil ones used in most standardized IQ tests. In fact, the authors posit that dyslexics may have superior “material reasoning” abilities, which refer to a person’s skill at reasoning about the shape, size, location or orientation of physical or material objects. Architecture, design, taxi driving and surgery are some of the professions that require enhanced spatial reasoning skills.

Psychologists typically make a distinction between two types of intelligence. Crystallized intelligence, which refers to the knowledge and skills a person acquires over time, is usually gauged by the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (Wisc). Performance on school tests typically correlates with a person’s crystallized intelligence scores.

In contrast, fluid intelligence reflects a person’s reasoning skills and ability to solve novel problems. The Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices provide an index of a person’s fluid intelligence. In a 2007 study published in the Brain And Cognition journal, Mika Hayashi and colleagues in Japan administered two IQ tests to children in the age group of 6-12 with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and normal, age-matched controls. While the two groups did not differ in their Wisc scores, children with AS outperformed the typically developing children on the test of fluid intelligence. The authors conclude that children with AS may have “superior abstract reasoning ability”.

The link between creativity and ADHD is explored in a 2011 paper published in the journal Personality And Individual Differences. In addition to replicating the finding of previous studies that individuals with ADHD perform better on measures of creativity in the lab, the researchers, Holly White and Priti Shah, also found that those with ADHD were more likely to have actual creative achievements in the real world, especially in the performing arts, than those without the condition. Interviewed for an article by Denise Mann in 2011 on the health and medical information website WebMD, White said, “While distraction can be a limitation in a traditional learning environment or workplaces with structured approaches, people with ADHD can be very innovative and generate useful and novel ideas.”

So what do we make of these disparate findings? The first take-home message is that we should not focus exclusively on the deficits of individuals with disabilities. Rather, we should look for areas of strength that may not typically surface in traditional classrooms. By exposing children to a variety of activities, we may be able to tap their latent potential in offbeat areas like birdwatching, mimicry or sculpture. We then need to nurture these competencies and make sure that children do not feel circumscribed by their deficits. Further, we need to realize that there is a lot of individual variation in development, even among those who have received a diagnostic label.

Even though the studies mentioned club people with dyslexia or ADHD under one umbrella, we have to realize that not all children with dyslexia or ADHD are alike. So the research evidence reported may not hold true for every individual in a diagnostic bracket. While some may show potential in certain areas, others may exhibit talents in different domains. But most importantly, we, as a society, need to recognize that a “disability” in one area does not preclude abilities in others. We owe it to our children and ourselves to celebrate these proclivities.

(The author is Director, PRAYATNA.)



Watch This Space

By: Bhavna R

The story of Henri’s scissors illustrated the meaning of a second life. The board with the bold letters, “WATCH THIS SPACE” intrigued the kids, as it was the first time they had seen a blank board for a book club. Without wasting time we jump started the book club with the tale of Henri. The story revolved around the famous avant-garde artist Henri Matisse and his transformation to an artist who painted with scissors. His tale showed that age is no bar for being creative.

Children were shown fascinating art work by Matisse. The art works comprised of copies of his earlier oil paintings and paper collages that he made during his old age. They were really involved while the story was read out and were able to answer most questions easily during the quiz based on his life. We delved deeper into Henri Matisse’s life. Through his story we highlighted to the kids, Matisse’s rebirth as an artist despite being unwell and limited to a wheel chair.

The exciting part of the afternoon kicked off with the paper collage activity. The kids were given the opportunity to do paper collages in pairs but there was a twist. They were only allowed to use a single arm throughout. Despite the simulated handicap, the pairs exhibited superb team work and created their own masterpieces. Their artwork was then put on display on the board. They learnt from this simple activity that disability cannot come in the way of creating and doing something meaningful. Children were given greeting cards with paintings by foot and mouth artists. This gift during the festive season was a reminder that no disability can extinguish the human spirit.

(Bhavna R. is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)



Purpose of this Blog

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

Since 1998, I have been running a centre for children with learning difficulties called PRAYATNA (www.prayatna.org) that has branches in Bangalore and Chennai. The main activities of the centre include assessing children and providing intervention to children who struggle to cope in mainstream classrooms. The centre also develops innovative teaching aids, counsels parents and conducts a training program for teachers and parents. In addition, PRAYATNA runs a book club for children and has developed programs for developing children’s social and communication skills. The centre also runs a study skills program to help children learn more effectively.

Running PRAYATNA has indeed been a life-altering experience for me. Over the course of these years, I have interacted with scores of children with indomitable spirits who fight the odds against them, parents who have been pillars of strength and cradles of compassion and schools that have dared to challenge conventional wisdom. On the other hand, I have also dealt with kids who are sinking under parental and school pressure, parents who prefer denial to dealing with a problematic issue and schools that close their doors to special children.

In order to help children, parents and teachers, the team at PRAYATNA continually seeks new methods. We read books and journals in the hope of finding concrete and practical solutions to children’s social, emotional and learning problems. And it is indeed gratifying to see a strategy actually working on a child or a parent who says that her home is a lot calmer after undergoing our counselling program.

As the PRAYATNA Team would like to share these methods and insights with a wider audience, we created the blog In Sync with Kids: Parenting & Teaching Today’s Kids.



Can there be a bright side to trauma?

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

First published in Mint, 4 August 14

Receiving a cancer diagnosis, losing a limb, surviving a brutal terrorist attack, outliving a child—for most of us, these events signify heart-rending loss and overwhelming grief. Even though we shirk from even imagining ourselves in such calamitous situations, life, alas, is not so benign. At some point, we will find ourselves face to face with adversity. That negative life events typically cause immeasurable strain is recognized by both laypersons and mental health professionals; in fact, after a shattering event, some people develop “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD), which is now a bona-fide psychological disorder. However, while some people succumb to the throes of anguish, others not only bounce back but also emerge stronger. Knowing that we may be positively transformed by trauma can help us see the other side of death, devastation and destruction. The term “post-traumatic growth” (PTG) was coined by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun in the 1990s. In an article in a 2004 issue of the journal Psychological Inquiry, they define it as “positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances”. Interestingly, PTG does not merely mean a return to a person’s baseline level of functioning prior to the catastrophe; rather, it involves an enhancement of the person’s life, relationships or work. In their research, Tedeschi and Calhoun have identified five domains under which PTG typically occurs. After going through a shattering crisis, some people gain a “greater appreciation of life” and reorient their priorities according to their altered goals. Others may experience enhanced quality of relationships while some may tread on new life paths. A few people become stronger as individuals, while others feel renewed spiritually. The authors are careful to point out that “growth does not necessarily signal an end to pain or suffering”. Even though they do not yet have the evidence to support their counterintuitive claim, Tedeschi and Calhoun hypothesize that less resilient people may be more inclined to experience PTG as stronger people have the resources to cope with tragedy better. So, more vulnerable people may experience growth as a result of “their struggle with trauma”. Among this set, some who were extroverted and more open to new experiences prior to the trauma, are more likely to experience PTG. Having a supportive network of people also promotes growth. As most of us quiver at the mere thought of disaster, we may think that only a handful of trauma survivors can experience PTG, possibly those with extraordinary courage. However, research indicates that trauma can favourably alter the life of the average person. In 1987, MS Herald Of Free Enterprise, a passenger and car ferry, capsized shortly after leaving a Belgian port. In what was one of the worst maritime disasters in recent history, 193 passengers and crew died. For his doctoral dissertation, which he describes in his 2012 book What Doesn’t Kill Us, psychologist Stephen Joseph interviewed the survivors both right after the tragedy and three years later. Expectedly, many of them showed evidence of great psychological distress a month after the incident. But, after three years, “43% said that their view of life had changed for the better”. Even the more horrific catastrophes can serve as a catalyst for growth. In his 2012 book Far From The Tree: Parents, Children, And The Search For Identity, Andrew Solomon interviews Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan who, along with his friend, perpetrated the gruesome shooting at the Columbine High School in Colorado, US, in 1999 that killed 13 people. Losing a child is unbearable, but being in Klebold’s position would make most people recoil and shudder. Yet, despite the severe shock, shame and social ostracism that Klebold endured after the tragedy, this mother feels a greater affinity to human beings. As she says: “When I hear about terrorists in the news, I think, ‘That’s somebody’s kid.’ Columbine made me feel more connected to mankind than anything else.” Closer home, a parent of a special child says in an interview that she emerged as a stronger, bolder person after coming to terms with her daughter’s diagnosis of autism. In addition to providing her daughter with all the supporting services and stimulation she requires, she chose to leave her husband in the child’s best interests, a move she would not necessarily have made if her child was typical. Further, she feels that by caring for a special child, she has become more accepting and empathetic towards people. She advises parents in a similar situation to stop feeling sorry and explore all avenues to promote the child’s development. Sagely, she urges them to also take care of their own needs and aspirations as unfulfilled parental desires are only going to impede a child’s development. Interestingly, one of the greatest testimonies to PTG was written even before the term was coined. Viktor Frankl’s memoir, Man’s Search For Meaning, first published in 1946, is a glowing tribute to humankind’s inner fortitude. Even as Frankl describes the gut-wrenching ordeals of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps, he is able to discern dignity among decay and perceive beauty in bestial conditions. He writes that despite “the enforced physical and mental primitiveness” that characterized life in the camp, “it was possible for spiritual life to deepen”. He feels that as long as man has a purpose or a meaning that he attaches to life, he can withstand practically anything. While the guards stripped the prisoners bare, both literally and metaphorically, Frankl evocatively says, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.” In his book, Frankl narrates a poignant anecdote. He was talking to a woman who was on the verge of dying in the camp. Despite knowing that death was imminent, the woman remained in good spirits. She confessed to Frankl that in her former life she had been spoiled and had not cultivated her spiritual side. Looking out of the window of her hut, she pointed to a tree, saying it was her only companion. She also admitted talking to the tree. Frankl first thought that the woman might be delirious or hallucinating. When he asked her what the tree said, she answered, “I am here—I am here—I am life, eternal life.”

Aruna Sankaranarayanan is director of Prayatna, a centre for children with learning difficulties.



Choosing a Career

Gita Nambiar

Choosing a career is one of the most important decisions we take in our lives.  While many children are confused when they come to the crossroads of Class XII, it is best for parents to let children make the choice for themselves while providing guidance and information.  However, very often parents foist their unfulfilled aspirations on their children.  Is it fair on our part to thrust upon children the dreams and aspirations that we were unable to realize?  The best possible course for parents is to recognize a child’s aptitude, interests and capability and guide them accordingly.  For those who have already selected their career, we can list the pros and cons so that they can judge for themselves whether they have made an intelligent choice.  For the majority who haven’t, give them sensible options based on their performance at school and areas of interest.

Ajay passed his Class X exams with a below average percentage.  He preferred continuing in the Commerce stream.  However, his father was determined on his studying Science as he wanted his son to pursue engineering after school.  The school refused admission into the Science stream due to his poor grades.  Admission was sought in another school that agreed to allow him to join the Science stream.  With much reluctance Ajay started attending classes at the new school.  The child, miserable to say the least, after a point, refused to go to school.  After a month of absence, the school took him back, with a dire warning that he should perform well or else would be asked to leave.  Under such circumstances, is there any likelihood of Ajay performing well at school or even at college subsequently?

In contrast, Rohan was identified as a slow-learner in middle school.  His parents realized the limits of his potential and admitted him in a school following the National Open School curriculum.  Without succumbing to social pressures, these parents surveyed unconventional career options that might suit their child.  As he went through high school, they taught him essential survival skills.  Rohan learnt to travel by public transport alone, help with household chores, carry out simple transactions at the bank and so on.  He sailed through his public exams in Class X and XII with average marks and is currently pursuing a degree in animation.  His career choice does not involve the three R’s.  An outstanding example of understanding parents and a happy child!

We parents need to rethink the choices we make for our wards.  Taking the help of counselors, teachers and other experts in the field would be a wise decision.  Rather than coercing children to follow our directions, we should allow them to consider all possibilities and select a course that they are comfortable pursuing.

(Gita Nambiar is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)



Latent Talents

Gita Nambiar

"What are your child’s strengths?" I asked, as part of our routine parental profile interview.  Both parents pondered awhile, glanced at each other, turned towards me and shook their heads.  I was taken aback that these parents had nothing positive to state about their eight-year old.  How could parents not notice anything good in their child?  The same couple rattled off a litany of negative traits when I asked them what their child’s difficulties or shortcoming were.

Our unidimensional quest for academic excellence blinds us to other talents or skills a child may possess.  While art, music, dance and athletic abilities are recognized to some extent, we do not necessarily encourage children’s talents in these domains.  Moreover, we do not pay heed to other strengths a child may possess.  For example, a ten-year old may exhibit qualities like being empathetic, caring and patient, which also need to be recognized and nurtured.  A sensitive child with good people skills can make an excellent counselor when she grows up.  A child who is extremely fond of his pet dog and cares for animals deeply may be a potential veterinarian. 

As parents we need to observe our children closely, for in every child there is a latent trait, quality or talent.  It is more obvious in some but less discernible in others.  Teachers are also in a position to identify and acknowledge these strengths in children.

Discovering and nurturing a hidden talent or skill brings immense pleasure to parent and child alike.  Not to mention the confidence it instills in the child in his ability to excel in a particular field.  He may not be an academic achiever, but his success in art, music, theatre or sport can do wonders in boosting self-esteem.  Pursuing extracurricular talents also promotes discipline and instills focus in a child. 

We must remember that our children did not ask to be born to us.  It is out duty to nurture and bring out the best in our child, no matter what her weaknesses or deficits might be.  Like a caring gardener who gently coaxes his plants to grow, we need to offer children warmth, sunshine and water so that they bloom in their own unique ways.

(Gita Nambiar works as a special educator at PRAYATNA.)



LITTLE STARS

KushalTalgeri

Abhishek Bachchan, Scott Adams, Whoopi Goldberg, Jay Leno, Bill Hewlett-what do they have in common?  Despite experiencing learning difficulties, they have all gone on to become high achievers.  For the parent forum at PRAYATNA, Bangalore, this time, we celebrated some of our own little stars-young achievers who we had the privilege of teaching in their younger years.  One child holds a record for running 400m in an interschool athletic meet and the other was selected to represent India at the Young Global Leaders’ Conference held in Washington and New York.  Yet another completed her BA and is a special educator herself, helping children with learning difficulties.

These youngsters shared their experiences, growing up-the challenges at school that included difficulties copying while listening to the teacher, trying hard to stay alert in class and preparing for exams to name just a few.  They also recounted the support they received from their parents, teachers and friends.  Each of them emphasized the important role of friends-from copying notes for them and explaining lessons to ‘whacking’ them on their heads to stay awake in class.  With maturity, they explained that teachers at school do their best to help children with difficulties and it is important to give them time so that both the teacher and child get to know and understand each other.  Further, they were very appreciative of the significant people in their lives for understanding, accepting and loving them despite their difficulties.  They expressed their gratitude for the untiring support they received from their parents in simplifying lessons for them, helping them focus on important points, encouraging their talents and interests and never allowing them to give up.  The confidence with which these youngsters spoke to the audience was truly impressive!

We had also invited parents of some of our alumni.   Their candid description of their journey with their kids through their schooling years was helpful in reassuring parents of kids currently enrolled at PRAYATNA.  They outlined the difficulties their children faced in the initial years with speech, reading, spelling, writing, attention and remembering academic information.  It was gratifying to hear the parents admit that their children did not require any other help when they were enrolled at PRAYATNA as their difficulties with academic skills were adequately addressed.  It was in the later years that they felt a lack of support services.  Consequently, one mother did a training program to understand her child’s difficulties better and to equip herself with skills required to help the child with her academics.  Another sought the help of a supportive tutor who understood her child’s difficulties and helped him with his curriculum.

The parents also elucidated the process of deciding a curriculum and school for their children and applying for accommodations for board exams.  While one parent chose ICSE as it allowed extra time on board exams, overlooked spelling errors, allowed substitution of math or second language with another subject, another chose it as her child required a scribe.  Yet another parent opted for NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) as it offered more flexibility.  Applying for accommodationswas a long-drawn process; the children had to be periodically assessed and reports sent to the boards via their schools.  The parents revealed the pain-staking efforts taken by both them and their children to crack the board exams-making concise notes to tackle vast portions, studying from the exam point of view by referring to previous years’ papers, etc.  However, they emphasized that the efforts were worth it as the children passed with flying colours.  Subsequently, they decided on a course based on their child’s strengths and interests; in the present scenario with various options available, it was not difficult to find a course their child wanted.  However, they will continue to require accommodations on exams.  One parent frankly admitted that it was quite challenging to decide a course for her child as she did not have clear-cut interests and the child herself was unable to express what she would like to do; hence, they enrolled her for a distance education course. 

To conclude, the parents advised that it is very crucial for the child’s well-being that the child is allowed to learn in a non-threatening environment; even in the most difficult times, it is important not to lose hope and to have faith in their child’s abilities.  They also urged parents to meet their child’s school teachers regularly and to discuss the child’s difficulties with school authorities without inhibition.

While it may not be possible to predict a child’s future, this parent forum was intended to inform and reassure parents of the children enrolled presently at PRAYATNA.  The guests at the session proved to us that though the road ahead may be challenging, with a sensitive and supportive environment, it is possible for children with different learning needs to become happy, confident and contented individuals and of course SUCCESSFUL!  

(KushalTalgeri is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA)