Bringing crucial issue of hidden disabilities among children to the fore

Rupantar’s Project Inclusion team is working tirelessly to help children suffering with neurodevelopmental disorders remain in the mainstream

Who can imagine that Ranjeet Thakur (13), who has effortlessly made working models of a car, fountain and water cooler, struggles to read and write and understand the basic concepts in class?

His behavior confuses his parents as the extraordinary skills he possesses contradicts with the lack of learning abilities, a neurodevelopmental disorder, that he suffers from.

Even his teacher Sandhya Shukla is surprised at the boy’s talent. “I never expected that he would make a these models with so much precision. I am totally amazed by his expertise on the subject.”

However, Jaiprakash Thakur, the boy’s father is worried for his son’s future. His profession as a barber does not generate enough income to bring the family out of poverty and he does not want the boy to drop out of education and end up doing menial jobs.

“He is not utilising his mind in studies. He spends all the time collecting waste material from home, outside and even garbage to make all these things. I would be happy if he starts studying,” Jaiprakash said.

For Ranjeet, these ideas come naturally to him.

“I like making different things which involve batteries, motors and wires. I do not like studying,” he says casually.

Ranjeet is not alone in his struggle of trying to cope up with the school and societal pressure, there are many unknown and unidentified ‘lost souls’, who are waiting to be heard and nurtured.

Sadly, often it is seen that such children with hidden learning disabilities are termed as reckless, impulsive, inattentive and abusive. They are ridiculed by their peers and become a subject of mockery in class and society. If left unattended, these conditions could lead to severe mental illnesses and even debilitate their growth.

These disorders are disabilities in the functioning of the brain that affect a child’s behaviour, memory, motor function, learning, language or non-verbal communication and ability to learn.

To a layman’s eyes, children with hidden disabilities seem to be as normal as any other child in the crowd and it gets difficult for teachers or parents to identify them without proper tools and techniques.

Making this task easier, the Project Inclusion team of Rupantar is spreading awareness among teachers in government schools about the importance of mental health and aiding them with methods to identify and deal with these students who have the ability to come to the mainstream but lag behind due to neglect and lack of understanding of the subject among teachers and parents.

Travelling to the remotest parts of the country, they are tirelessly training government school teachers and providing them information about inclusive education where all children can study with high quality instruction, intervention and help.

Promoting the idea of inclusive school and belief that children with special needs are also capable of being in the mainstream and leading a successful life, these experienced counsellors are making sure that no child is left behind.

Through the intense 4-day sessions, the teachers are briefed about the kind of neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Learning disability (LD), Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intellectual Disability, that affect the growth of a child in a normal environment.

The teachers are asked to identify children in their school or classes if any of them shows any symptom of a hidden disability. The identified children are then assessed by clinical psychologists and if confirmed, their teachers and parents are counselled and provided with methods and strategies to deal with them.

Determined to bring a change in the lives of these children, this diligent workforce is leaving no stone unturned when it comes to mentoring teachers about this issue. One such example is Gaurav Kulshreshtha, manager and psychotherapist, Project Inclusion.

Holding the core values of empathy and sensitivity close to his heart, he has mastered the art of conveying the serious topic of mental health in a simple and interesting way.

Currently heading the training sessions in Hapur district of Uttar Pradesh, he engages in light-hearted conversations to break the monotony. The session gains momentum as teachers come up with queries. They nod their head in agreement and raise their hand in case of any confusion.

“How do I differentiate between LD and ADHD?” asks a teacher, while another one diligently makes notes from the presentation in front of her. They hear in apt attention about the checklist to identify children with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Gaurav Kulshreshtha during a training session in Hapur, Uttar Pradesh

“There is a dearth of special educators in the country, so we have to train regular teachers in a very simple and easy language so that they are able to grasp the subject and accurately identify case studies in their school and classes,” Kulshreshtha said.

He said that government school children generally belong to the lower strata of the society and do not have access to this kind of intervention from teachers or psychologists and the end result is that they have to drop out of school once they reach higher classes as they are not able to compete with normal kids.

“Our work becomes all the more important in such a scenario. Quality and inclusive education is the right of every child,” he added.

Another Project Inclusion trainer said the sessions have made her realise the ground realities in the remote villages.

“When I talk to the teachers during sessions and parents during assessments, I realise the level of ignorance there is about mental health. A lot of counselling is needed to make them understand the consequences their child will have to face if not given the proper atmosphere to grow,” the trainer said.

“Even if parents are not able to understand properly what is wrong with their child, they want us to help them. These children need us and we try our best to live up to their expectations,” the trainer added.

Launched in 2016, Project Inclusion has till now reached 9 states in the country. Over 12,000 teachers have received orientation in over 300 sessions. The teachers have till now submitted over 7,000 case studies of children suffering with suspected neurodevelopmental disorders.

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