Who am I?
I am Sheela .... Sheela Sinha—a woman in her sixties with lots of grey hair and a passion for anything to do with children. This passion landed me in the field of education nearly three decades ago—education and training of children with multiple disabilities. It has been a joyful journey, full of learning and enriching experiences. No doubt, there were moments of struggle and pain. There were times when a sense of loss and failure which pervaded our—mine and my co-travelers’—long and circuitous journey. However, the contentment of having come a long way from where we started decades ago overshadows all the memories of those low moments. The field of disability, more so of multi-disability, has already begun to evolve as an area of fruitful investment—investment in terms of emotions, attention, time, energy and, of course, financial and physical resources.
Getting back to the question of “Who am I”, I am the former Director of Education of Helen Keller Institute for Deaf and Deafblind, have done my Masters in Psychology and have taught Psychology in a college for a few years prior to joining the Helen Keller family. I have been trying to remain close to my roots by working as a trainer and independent consultant since my retirement on February 28th this year.
Five things about Helen Keller Institute for Deaf and Deafblind I would like to share:
1)Helen Keller Institute for Deaf and Deafblind (HKIDB), as many of you may know already, is a pioneer organisation in the field of deafblindness. Its founder, the late Ms. Beroz Vacha, started this unique program way back in 1977 for the education and training of children and young adults with duel sensory disabilities—deafness as well as blindness—a condition known as deafblindness. This was the first program in Asia to start working with children who were totally isolated and destined to spend their entire lives in a sightless, soundless world devoid of any interaction with the outer world. Apart from this, it also started a school for children with hearing impairment which continues to provide education until Class 10 and ensures all round development of its students through a variety of extracurricular activities.
2)The goals and objectives of HKIDB have always been centred around providing services to the deafblind population and not making profit.
3)Another big step forward, which HKIDB took way back in the late 1990s, was to start a teacher training program, which again was the first training program in our country to provide a full-fledged diploma course in multi-disability. This program runs a certified two year diploma course and has enabled organisations throughout the country and even in some of our neighbouring countries to provide quality intervention programs to the children with multi-disability using the services of teachers trained at HKIDB.
4)With time, both the educational and vocational training programs at HKIDB have strengthened and expanded to include many new areas. Computer literacy, beautician’s course, tailoring, training which qualifies to work as plumbers and electricians are some of the courses it offers now. The periphery of the population it serves has also been expanded now, keeping in mind the current needs of the field.
Its early intervention and educational program now serves not only individuals with deafblindness but also those who have vision impairment with any other disability, and its vocational courses are offered to young adults with deafness and locomotor disability also.
5)Last but not the least, HKIDB has always believed in strong ethics and values and has tried to instil these values in its teachers as well as the trainees. It inspires to take up this responsibility of serving children with disabilities and supporting their families as a beautiful way of life, to be followed with full commitment, care and compassion and not just as another means of livelihood.
Five things I want to tell the parents:
1)What is gone is gone. It is futile to sit and wait for it to come back but there are a great many things which are still there. Let us focus on them and help our children grow on those fronts. As Alexander Graham Bell once rightly remarked, “When one door closes, another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”
2)Let us learn to rejoice in small achievements. An achievement, however small it may be, can turn to be a great source of joy if we learn to give importance to it and understand its relevance in the life of a child who is growing differently from other children. It could be just a meaningful smile at an appropriate moment or learning to imitate a movement during the music class or…
3)Let us offer one “Yes” for every “No”, one “Can” for every “Cannot”.
4)Let us be very generous in showing our appreciation and providing positive reinforcement for every little happy or acceptable act.
5)Life has multiple dimensions and all these dimensions are interlinked and interdependent. The happenings in one dimension affect the quality in the other. So, in our pursuit to give the best to this child, let us not totally forget about other fronts—our personal life, the time and attention given to the other siblings and so on. Of, course, the equation will have to be changed and several layers of adjustments and reorganisation of each family member’s roles, responsibilities and mutual expectations will be required. However, certain basic gratifications should be taken care of for the wellbeing of the family. It could be as small a thing as spending ten minutes over coffee with your spouse or reading out a little story to a younger sibling before putting him to bed, but it can have a very positive impact.
A work-related memory that I cherish
We were in the middle of an International conference in Canada. During one of the plenary sessions, I was part of a panel in which five people were going to talk about the work being done in their region on development of communication skills. I had chosen to focus on how to build up joy of communication. It went well and we moved into workshop sessions.
However, what surprised me was a constant stream of strangers coming to me and congratulating me for that presentation. I could not understand which aspect of my paper had made them appreciate it so much till I read one of the reviews written by a leading professional in one of the journals later. It said, “Amidst all the talk of sensory issues and behavioural concerns, here was this lady from India who was talking about the JOYS of childhood, JOYS of communication—something which so very often gets lost among parental concerns and professionals’ diagnostic assessments.” It suddenly dawned on me what had hit the nail! A child is a child first, waiting to be initiated into the little joys of childhood, and then autistic or intellectually challenged or multiply challenged.
In another plenary next day, a stalwart in our field Dr. Van Dijk substantiated this view by saying, “When educators discuss IEPs, goals and objectives I ask them, “Have you given five smiles to your child today? That should be your most important objective for each day.”” So… To conclude I will say, “Let us all work towards this goal of providing five smiles each day to our children. We have got them assessed and diagnosed, we have gone through multiple therapy sessions a day, we have rushed from one school to another in the hope of getting them admitted, and we have discussed appropriate teaching strategies an umpteen number of times. Now can we put our heads together, keep our concerns aside for a little while and find ways to give back those lost smiles to our children?”
With lots of LOVE,