I am from Bangalore and I like to say ‘born/bred/buttered’ in Bangalore! I was born into a business family – the younger of two daughters – my dad was in the agarbathi(incense sticks) business. My parents have always been extremely supportive to this day in everything I have done and been through. Dad turned 99 in April and Mom turned 88!
I spent my childhood in Bangalore – studied at The East West School, NMKRV Junior College, Mount Carmel College and the Bangalore University for my MA [clinical Psychology]. I was a topper, excelling in both, academics and sports. I was the captain of my school and college throw-ball team and got a chance to captain the Karnataka Throw-ball team. I also played softball and was part of the athletics team.
In 1982, I got married to Amar, a paediatrician and we had two daughters Meghana and Varsha. My beautiful family was shattered when Amar passed away in 1992. I had to pick up the pieces and start all over again!
My younger daughter, Varsha was in 1stgrade when she was identified as being dyslexic. This threw me into a panic until Ms. Bela Raja, her special educator, who later became my mentor guided me to work with her. At her behest I stepped into the world of special education, as a parent volunteer. I plunged into the field and worked hard to help my daughter. I headed the resource room in The Valley School, Bangalore for a couple of years and then moved into St. Paul’s English School, Bangalore to start a resource room and simultaneously began to work with Brindavan Education Trust. Four years later, I shifted totally into Brindavan Education Trust, an NGO. I have been working fir the past 21 years in the field of special education with special emphasis on the needs of children with Learning Disabilities, ADHD and some children with Autism and with behaviour issues.
Currently, I work as a co-ordinator of the After School Remedial Centre at Brindavan where on an average we have at least 75 children [3-16yrs] come in for after school remedial support. During the course of my work I mentor teacher trainees, and supervise the process of determining present levels, formulating IEPs and counselling parents. I also conduct informal educational evaluations.
I initiated the conceptualization of the Diploma in Understanding the child with Special Needs, a 14-month course offered by Brindavan, which is currently recruiting its tenth batch.
Sharing and being part of a process to disseminate knowledge is a passion for me. Another contribution in this direction has been co-ordinating and planning the Brindavan Annual Seminars which are aimed at empowering mainstream teachers, special educators and parents to work towards inclusion. To date I have coordinated more than 14 such events.
In the year 2000 I had the good fortune of meeting up with Professor Richard Rose of The University of Northampton, UK. After working with him for about 5 years on various areas, I collaborated with him and the university to bring the MA Special and Inclusive Education to Bangalore. To date, we have run 6 cohorts and I have been the point of contact for this course and contributed to the development of course content, marketing and recruitment as well as mentoring students working on their assignments and dissertations. An offshoot of this course has also been the start of the PhD program. In the course if this I also published a couple of papers and co- authored couple of book chapters.
It has been an eventful journey so far with unexpected turns and twists. I stumbled into the field of special education in 1998 when my younger daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia. At that point it was entering this field as a parent volunteer so that I could learn more techniques to help my daughter by working with other children. At this juncture I had Bela Raja my mentor show me which way to go. Little did I know then that this was one day going to become my career!
My daughter, followed by all the children who show so much resilience in the face of their difficulties have sailed through as winners! Each child I have met during my work has been an inspiration to me. The way they come out with their coping strategies and surge forward is amazing!
My biggest achievement has been to turn adversities into opportunities for growth. It has also been to be able to empower teachers and give my bit to help them teach children with difficulties and work towards inclusion. Another achievement has been to be a TEDx speaker [a dream come true!] I was a speaker at the TEDxDSCE couple of years ago.
Professionally, there is no end to learning is what I have learnt. Opportunities to learn and to share, present themselves at the most unexpected junctures. Personally, I have learnt that there will never be a time when everything in life will go as I want it to. So, accepting things as they are and still continuing to live a positive and meaningful life is very doable.
In one of the schools I worked at I had to identify children who had/may have Learning difficulties. I also had to make sure I had the class teacher and subject teachers involved in the remedial process as the intention was to work towards inclusion. As the school was a big one and had 5 sections in each grade with 40 students minimum in each section, it was a very challenging task. It would take me months in this situation to complete the task. Along with this I was to also give remedial support to the children with difficulties as well as do Counselling and teacher orientation.
After thinking it over I finally came up with a checklist I put together which I called Learner Observation Form which I would give teachers when they told me about children who they felt were having difficulties. The teachers merely had to tick the list and I was so thrilled that this worked very well. Teachers would come and meet me with the completed checklist and we would discuss the child in detail and then take it forward. This way I could connect with the teachers and ensure that they were very much a part of the process.
I have many women that I look up to. My mother Rukmini who has been the pillar behind my family and my support through all that I have been going through – good and bad. Along with her my older sister Lakshmi who is my inspiration for the equanimity she shows in every situation. Professor Jayanthi Narayan who is one of the leaders for inclusion in India, Mrs Rukmini Krishnaswamy the Director of the Spastics Society of Karnataka.
And yes, there are so many young women- those who are working and doing so much work with children with special needs and mothers of children with special needs who are all my role models for the resilience, for the patience and for unflinching support they give their children 24/7. Yes and most importantly the children!
For those who want to walk the same path as me, I would say – go in without expectations and give your best! Don’t expect quick successes because there is no quick fix method! You will learn and grow with every session you put in with every child and every parent. The returns may not come as fast as or as quickly as other professions but the joy you get in seeing a child make progress is something that cannot be replaced by anything else. There are so many new difficulties emerging for children! We must reach out to them!
I hope reading my journey has fueled your passion and inspired you. I strongly believe that each of you has the potential to become a path breaker! Don’t let any obstacles tell you otherwise! The sky is the limit!
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