A student’s knack for technology despite neurodevelopmental disorder

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Regardless of his hidden disability, Ranjeet Thakur’s understanding of complex scientific procedures and creation of different science-based models has surprised all

Ask Ranjeet Thakur about how a water fountain or a mixer grinder works, his eyes sparkle with joy as he explains the whole procedure without pausing for a bit. The excitement in his voice indicates how much he loves making science-based models and how deep his understanding of the subject is.

Thakur’s little fingers work amazingly fast when he joins the lower half of the bottle, two caps and wires to make a water fountain as his teachers watch in bewilderment the skills this 13-year-old boy possesses.

This is an extraordinary achievement for Thakur as he suffers from a kind of neurodevelopmental disorder (ND) and has difficulty in understanding the basic concepts in class. But when it comes to technology, he showcases exemplary knowledge about the whole technique used in making an appliance.

“I do not take ideas from anyone. They come to me automatically. I like making different things which involve batteries, motors and wires. I do not like studying,” Thakur said.

The usually active and bubbly boy cannot read or write English and can somewhat understand Maths. He became the centre of attention in his Government Model High School in Mauli Jagran district of Chandigarh when he made the model of a chimney during a class project in August, 2018.

“It was easy for me. I collected old batteries, old toys and wires and made it. I have also made a water cooler and mixer for my mother at home,” he said, exhibiting a sense of satisfaction for his work.

In pure innocence, Thakur claims that dreams about making these machines in his sleep.

Ranjeet with his father

Thakur was identified as having NDD when his teacher Sandhya Shukla attended the Project Inclusion, a part of  Rupantar, orientation in August, 2018.

The program educates regular school teachers to identify hidden learning disabilities in students by using simple checklists and then enables them to practice an empathetic and sensitive approach towards these children.

The Project Inclusion trainers conduct four-day orientation program where teachers are given information about the types of NDD disorders for the initial two days and then they are asked to identify any such case in their class as per the checklist provided to them during the training. On the last day, teachers are given the knowledge to deal with the identified children till the time they are not assessed by clinical psychologists.

Thereafter, special educators/psychologists help teachers along with the parents and siblings of these children to practice the techniques to support the child’s learning inside and outside the school. It also helps in improving retention and quality of life of children suffering from NDD.

A total of 276 government school teachers attended the May-August 2018 training that was held in 9 batches in Chandigarh.

“During the training, I got to know what the different kinds of hidden disabilities are. Ranjeet’s case was in my mind and I could relate his behavioural pattern with those being told during the program,” she said.

Shukla said that Thakur has extraordinary IQ level but he lags behind in class due to his inability to read and write.

Talking about the school project of making a chimney, Shukla said that the competition was to make a working or a non-working model and “I did not expect that he would make a working model with so much precision. I was totally amazed by his expertise on the subject.”

Children suffering with neurodevelopmental disorder generally go unnoticed as their behaviour is normally seen as abusive, aggressive, naughty, inattentive or reclusive. Due to these traits, they are mostly avoided by their classmates and teachers, as a result of which they develop low confidence and prefer to remain in their shell.

Situation gets worse when even parents of such children are not able to understand their problem and do not make the effort to know the actual reason behind their condition. Things were not different for Thakur as his family has always thought of him being disinterested in studies.

“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,” said Jaiprakash Thakur, the boy’s father.

Jaiprakash, who is a barber by profession, said the he wants his son to be successful in life and not end up like him.

Sunandini Bhardwaj (right) conducting the session

Sunandini Bhardwaj, Project Inclusion trainer who has forwarded Thakur’s case for assessment, said the boy may be suffering from neurological condition called learning disability.

Explaining further, she said that such children with learning disability have normal intellect but the only problem is in their neural connectivity. This condition interferes with their basic skills such as reading, writing, organizing, time management, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention.

Talking about the boy’s dreams about machines, Bhardwaj said that he can be experiencing one of the stages of creative thinking called illumination.

“This is a stage in which the person is not directly thinking about the problem but subconsciously working upon the solution by making connection between ideas. Once he dreams about the solution, he moves on to next stage of creative thinking called verification in which he executes the solution he has dreamt about,” she said.

With Thakur being identified and his case taken up for assessment, his teachers and parents will be trained by Project Inclusion experts on how to support him and fulfill his dreams.