There is no force in the world that can stop Kamini Amit Kumar and Mamta Basoiya from doing what they love doing the most – teaching. Employing the word ‘teaching’ though to convey what these Delhi-based wonderful beings have been doing would be an understatement, I opine. For they are not teachers who impart knowledge conventionally. ‘We’re special educators’ chimes in Kamini as I, along with the two great souls, begin an interaction on the night of Teacher’s Day, an interaction that lasts for nearly two hours.
Over the course of the discourse, I apprehend that theirs is a life that’s different from yours and mine. Or ‘normal’ teachers, for that matter. Day in day out, they work energetically and tirelessly to better the lives of children who have been rendered incapacitated. Mamta, who is currently working for a school that exclusively functions for children with special needs, explains, ‘Most of the students that we handle are either severely mentally challenged or enervated so much that they more often than not require the help of someone to do everyday activities needed to sustain themselves.’
Different Breeds, Different Needs
Kamini, who works for the same school and is specialised in dealing with children suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), elaborates, ‘Most of the children we handle are autistic or being treated for ADHD. But we also have kids who are slow learners or have Down’s Syndrome.’ She goes on to asseverate, ‘Having said that, I think it’s important to mention that each of these kids has needs that are very different from the rest of the lot, and part of our job is also figuring out what the kids’ needs, strengths, weaknesses, and abilities are.’
Both of them agree with me when I tell them that misconceptions regarding mental challenges are rife and run deep. In fact, even the parents need to be educated before they get to understand the issues their kids are dealing with, they avow. ‘Contrary to what many people think, mentally challenged kids are not emotionless. It’s just that they do not know how to express their feelings. Nonetheless, it’s next to impossible for them to even come to the realisation that others around them have emotions,’ Mamta elucidates.
It’s Not That They’re Not Intelligent
Because it’s vital for these kids to understand the value of human sentiments, Kamini and Mamta affect emotions while interacting with them. ‘We cry, laugh, scold. It’s part of our job to make them understand that we feel hurt or grow happy depending on the situation,’ says Mamta, who holds an MA in Psychology. Kamini, who considers her husband to be a great source of motivation, lets me know that analysing the child’s abilities is key to determining which category he/she may fall into. ‘There are three categories – educable, vocational, and severe,’ she says, adding that there are many students who are capable of writing and reading well but may lack in areas like singing or dancing. Mamta jumps in, ‘The kids who fall in the first category can even find jobs. Some of them are more intelligent than ‘normal’ children, but they face issues in other areas of life.’
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It is only the students who fall under the third category who need more care and attention. ‘For children with severe needs, we try our best to ensure they are at least able to convey their basic instincts like hunger or the urge to use the washroom. But this is not an overnight process,’ Kamini says.
‘Autistic Kids Are Very Particular’
So, how long does it take for such students to technically ‘graduate’ from the school? ‘We have a plan in place. Everything is done systematically. In fact, many of these kids start working right here and assist special educators,’ Mamta puts things in perspective. Kamini goes on to say that there is a lot she has learnt from these kids. ‘Autistic kids are very particular about certain things. They want everything to be organised. Yes, they are aloof and they hardly mingle with others, but their innocence is something that moves my heart and soul. Some of them do end up finding good jobs,’ says Kamini, who herself has a cousin being treated for a severe mental condition.
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Both tell me that the pandemic has proved to be a blessing in disguise. ‘Coronavirus has actually brought families closer than ever before. Earlier, we used to have parents complaining about certain things, but now, they understand the challenges we face and also the real issues that need to be dealt with. I only hope to bring smiles to many such families,’ says Kamini even as Mamta tells me that it’s important to focus on the solutions rather than brood over the problems. ‘It’s unclear what the root cause of Autism or ADHD is since many factors play a role. What we do know, however, is that they can lead a satisfactory life provided they attend the classes regularly,’ says Mamta, bringing our interaction to a close.