The D Day had arrived. The day all the kids had been practising for the last two months post Diwali and mid term tests. It was the big annual day and honestly I must have questioned every other day what the heck is happening with the multiple rehearsals and all the hyper planning. In my almost a decade of being the mommy, of a school going, 13 years old wonderful kid on the autism spectrum, I had not seen many annual days. Maybe 4. Unlike a neurotypical kid’s mom – like my sister- who is perpetually preparing costumes for some or the other fancy-dress day or occasion at the school.
We were asked to get some costumes done for a fashion show which I grudgingly went and shopped for at the 11 th hour. I was prepping for another day of Madhav being a tree, cloud or a wall flower. Schools may not be inclusive in classrooms but are fairly integrated when it comes to putting children on stage in these programs as props.
The only thing I was looking forward to was our own dance performance. YES!! Us moms of our special needs buchchas had prepared a garba. We were 12 of us. And not even once had all the twelve of us practised together. We all struggled to make time but from a registration of interest by 27 had come down to this small group that was willing to make it work. We had limited time and even limited space to practise at- as the kids were also using every inch of the school. It was like a Mela. We did 8:30AM cardio garba at school on some days and followed it up on WhatsApp. It was only on the grand performance day that all 12 of us were, for the first time, performing together.
We all reached the venue and took our seats. Madhav went backstage and his Dad, Dadi and I settled in. I was not prepared for what the evening had in store for me. There were 6-7 performances in total and each left me weepy. I finally saw what these kids were prepping all this while for. It took weeks of rehearsals to come up with performances of this quality.
Western dance, western music, Bharatnatyam, two plays, solo recitals, gymnastics and yoga- all the activities that are part of their curriculum at the Citi Academy Special Education- CASE as we call it.
I couldn’t get over the perfection with which each program was executed. Now, one may ask why this level of amazement? Well, this is a special school where 70 of all 70 are neurodiverse because of which a regular mainstream school can’t give them admission or meet their learning needs. Our children learn at their own pace and to get them all to vibe together and prepare masterpieces must have taken another level of patience, perseverance and unconditional dedication by the teachers.
These were difficult performances. The plays all had the dialogues recorded by the children and they had to lip sync on them- which was flawless for they must have practised it over and over again. The dance steps were all synchronised, the singing was perfect- for a moment I thought this was any other school. It just took them much longer to ace the performances than neurotypicals but what was the end result. They were as good as any other set of kids.
They got verbal, semi verbal, nonverbal all to perform and not as props. They put in the effort to identify what the child was good at, what he could be trained in for a period of time to master that skill. It wasn’t just for tokenism. It was hard work. It is what our therapists and doctors tell us about everything in life. Practice Practice Practice.
Madhav was part of a fashion show and a western dance performance. The fashion show was adorable with every single kid walking up to the audience, waving kisses, swaying to music- and this was their version of a prop show. Instead of getting kids who couldn’t perform in sync with others to just stand as bystanders they got them all a sense of performance.
But what blew my mind was my son’s dance performance. Madhav loves music and dance. His body language changes when he hears music- he sways- he hums- he is in a happy zone. There were 20 kids on the stage ALL IN SYNC. And this one child of mine- totally on his own trip. He stood out with a huge smile on his face, totally oblivious to others dancing in a routine to a song and no stage fear what so ever. He stood out like an adorable happy beaming sore thumb!!! I wondered why he was taken in this performance when they could easily see he wasn’t following any steps. Later, after the program, I met his Principal and I joked about it and her reaction blew my mind. She said he was having too much fun for us to have not included him in this performance. He had enjoyed the music and dancing so much all this while that even though he was the only non synchronised child on the stage- HE WAS THERE. By this time you would have wondered how many times did I weep. Well pretty much the entire time 😊
We mums were nervous about our show but we danced- the happy dance- amidst loud cheers and applause. The dance for us, was the time we made for ourselves. For the sisterhood. For we got together- not discussing our children or the therapies and interventions or the problems and solutions. It was the gift of time we gave ourselves.
Why am I talking about this, you may ask now? I am talking about this to bring to your attention what it means to send your child to a school where he is accepted, embraced and loved. It is a SPECIAL SCHOOL for he is a child with special needs.
Majority parents even today do not want their children to go to special schools. There is lack of acceptance starting from home and denial that pushes them to send their kids to regular schools where sooner or later they are told that the child can not fit or can’t be handled. Parents threaten principals with RTE clauses and get their children admitted which is neither fair to the child nor the school. Schools then demand shadow teachers be sent at extra cost to handle the child. They are not as understanding and polite most of the times and schooling becomes a morbid chore for everyone.
Pushing the child to a school where he is constantly masking and pretending to be someone he is not is criminal. Children with learning disabilities and cognitive disabilities need extra attention and often Individual Learning Programs that a regular school can almost always not provide. If they do, they charge a fee for it. Inclusive schools are far and few today in the country and the ones that are doing a good job are expensive and have limited seats.
Even if you send your child to a regular school there is a possibility that he will not be able to cope with the curriculum after a certain point when the syllabus starts to become complex. And then you are left with no other option than taking them off school. The child finds himself lost and not prepared then for a special set up. It hits their self esteem in ways that it leads to mental health issues.
Special schools, on the other hand, ascertain your child’s capabilities and prep them accordingly for future. At my son’s school they follow the Pratham board which is for grade 3 and grade 5 and ensures basic education for the child. It then offers the option of NIOS and SSC for children who can cope with academics. Post 16 they run a personality development and vocational training program.
That’s not the only reason for which you should choose a special school. My son, like other autistic people, stims (self stimulatory behaviour- which is repetitive or unusual body movement or noises like clapping, rocking) and it is absolutely acceptable at school. He is taught to be independent, socialise and is exposed to multiple activities in order to find what is he likely taking an interest in. Lot of patience goes into this. He has been picky all his life about food. And school exposed him to a variety of new food and his teachers took special interest in introducing new foods to him. Today he has added 11 new dishes to his food thanks to them and their gentle nudges.
Why now you may ask do we not have more special schools like these? It is a classic case of the chicken and egg. If more parents showed interest and comfort in sending their children to special schools, we will see more of them coming up.
I deeply understand that I come from a place of privilege. I live in a big city. I have access to these wonderful places. And it is here that I raise my second point. Why is the government not concentrating on funding special schools- like Kendriya Vidyalaya or Navoday Vidyalaya for special needs. Opportunities of inclusion can be created between neurotypicals and neurodiverse kids but that doesn’t mean they need to be in the same space. I know not everyone here will agree with me. And will quote examples of the west where all schools are inclusive. But I am also aware of the ground realities in India. We do not have the awareness or acceptance. We do not have the will or the means. We do not have the bandwidth and the resources. Inclusion can happen outside of schools too. Why force our children to be at places where they are not welcome? While some children with invisible disabilities can manage to integrate in regular school setups there are still thousands of kids who need special schools.
I urge you parents to reflect upon this when you think of a school for your child. And I also request educationists, corporates, government and other stakeholders to think about special schools and how we can start and support more of these not just in the big cities but all across the country.
This post is a part of “International Day of Disabled Persons” blog hop hosted by Sakshi Varma – Tripleamommy in collaboration with Bookosmia. #IDPD2022Bloghop. Access all posts of this bloghop at https://tripleamommy.com/2022/12/02/idpd2022-lets-make-this-world-a-more-inclusive-space/