Malathy Krishnan,
(Co-coordinator, Junior Centre, Brindavan)

What a start this was, to my journey in the field of special education!! 

This was in my year of volunteering in Brindavan alongside doing my Diploma in Specific Learning Disabilities in the year 2012 – 2013. When I look back now, I couldn’t have had a better start than this. Two incidents that stand out for me 😊

I was asked to work with this strappy young lad who was all of 14 (who knew that he was attracting attention of the other children by the way he looked, dressed and acted). Since all the classrooms were occupied during the time of my remediation with him, he and I had to sit outside of the classroom. This was an area where there would be movement of children. If he would get distracted, I would change the seating arrangement in such a way that he wouldn’t see others walking about. Sometimes, he would go to the washroom and wouldn’t return for a few minutes. After I spoke to his teacher, I was told to accompany him unpredictably, when he took a washroom break. I did so. Seeing all this, one day he asked me, “Have you tried acting, ma’am?” When I replied in the negative, he said, “You should try acting ma’am. The role of a police officer would fit you correctly.” Being new to the field, I didn’t know how to react; suppressing the involuntary smile that arose in me, I told him to continue his work. A few days later, he was having his lunch and as I was about to leave, he asked me, “Would you have a lunch date with me now?”. Oh!! Was it tough not to burst out laughing!!

How much children try to push the boundaries to see at what point the teacher may succumb!! It takes a lot to push back and in our own way to tell the child, that we know what they are trying to do. As I write this blog, I do wonder what he is doing now.

Here was this child called Sundar who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He would flap his hands when he was excited and this will trigger an excitement in a few other children. If the class teacher wasn’t present and in her place someone else was managing the class, it would be a handful for her to handle the class. There was a boy in this class who knew what to do to make Sundar excited. All he had to do was sing the line ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’. Sundar’s excitement would begin and so would the flapping of his hands. The teacher managing the class would say, “Your class teacher is coming now” or “Let me call your class teacher” and that’s it. There would be pin drop silence in the class. Everyone would quickly go to their places and sit down as though nothing had happened. If the class teacher didn’t come for a minute or so after that, they would start the excitement all over again. The moment they heard the footsteps of the class teacher, it would be zilch noise. Most children would not be able to calm themselves down and that would earn them a consequence or two from the class teacher.

The first couple of days I saw this, I was taken aback. It took me some days and a few such situations, to figure out that these children knew which teacher to take advantage of and which teacher they need to be careful about.

This made me think – There was then a certain level of cognition in them, to understand what could get them into trouble and what wouldn’t; who could they take advantage of and who they couldn’t? When I looked at this aspect in isolation, it is what would happen in a mainstream school as well. One child, knowing what would trigger another; most if not all children, knowing which teacher is firm and which teacher is lenient with them. With which teacher they can get away playing pranks and with which teacher they can’t. The only difference in children with special educational needs being that, it may not be easy for them to bring all their actions to a stop immediately and at all times, on seeing the class teacher. They may also find it difficult to get their emotions in order at the press of a button, and focus on the class. This was a big learning for me on how to be and how not to be as a teacher. To learn to balance that firmness and softness isn’t easy, and it is still a work in progress!!!

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