SOCIAL SKILLS (Acceptance and Inclusion – 8 )

SOCIAL SKILLS (Acceptance and Inclusion – 8 ) a blog by Jaya Sudhakar and Siddhanth Palaparti

Schooling experience becomes better for our children with special needs when there is ongoing communication between the parents and the school. Siddhanth’s inclusive school was open to suggestions from the parents and the therapists of the children with special needs. I used to source a lot of print material on inclusion strategies for implementation in integrated schools from the Forum for Autism’s library and share it with Siddhanth’s school counsellors. Likewise the school’s resource centre too would share useful material with us from time to time. Just as much as the school counsellors were eager to update themselves from the Autism workshops which I used to inform them about, they were equally keen to conduct workshops for us parent caregivers to reduce our stress levels and spread positive vibes to motivate us. So it was a constant process of growing and evolving on both sides.

In the early days, the school was open to allow Siddhanth’s occupational therapist to come and meet the counsellor, have a look at the classroom structure and give practical suggestions. Siddhanth’s developmental paediatrician also used to give updated recommendations to the school after every follow up visit. The school used the buddy system a great deal, the class teachers were picked carefully (generally those with more maturity and who were very enthusiastic about being part of the journey) and allowed access to the parents ( of kids with special needs) to join in field trips and the rehearsals before Annual Cultural Day and Annual Sports Day events – basically those unstructured events which changed from the daily routine and had greater elements of unpredictability.This helped to foster better understanding on both sides and made the journey that much easier.

There were monthly meetings with the school counsellor regarding Siddhanth’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Besides this there were the regular parent – teacher meetings and Open House for all parents. In the primary section, the teachers used to come to the basement every Friday for 15 to 20 minutes before school hours and we could discuss whatever we wanted with any subject teacher. This provided a good opportunity for me to interact with the teachers on a weekly basis and keep tabs on Siddhanth’s progress. I used to send Siddhanth to school by school bus and then hop into an autorickshaw to meet the teachers at the basement.

I remember Siddhanth’s third grade teacher Ms Vidya always showing a keen interest on his progress in his therapy sessions and was very enthused about supporting him in the classroom setting. If I would say that we were working on his asking for help, she would immediately suggest something like, “Do not send the eraser this week. If needed I shall prompt him to borrow it from his neighbour in class”. The compassionate teacher would also encourage many of her colleagues who were not directly teaching Siddhanth to converse with him whenever possible.

I remember once going to pick up Siddhanth and noticed that while Siddhanth was sitting in the basement waiting for me, he was engaged in deep conversation with another teacher Ms Rekha. She was enquiring from him about his Geography project – a model of a lake that he had made and carried with him to school. Her feedback of the detailed description he gave her was very encouraging to me.

Likewise there were the Open House Meetings at the conclusion of every semester which used to be spread over three hours. Parents could walk in any time during those three hours and engage with the teacher. I usually used to attend it somewhere in the middle of the slot as it was relatively less crowded at that time and I could discuss more with the teacher. Vidya Madam would often send Siddhanth to any of her colleagues in one of the neighbouring classes (whoever was free at that time) while she had a discussion with me. On one such meeting, I remember Siddhanth going over to speak to Rekha Madam. She later informed me that Siddhanth was conversing with her about his plans for the ensuing vacation. He had mentioned about going to Hyderabad but was clueless when she asked him about his ‘native place’. This kind of feedback would give me pointers about the vocabulary and concepts that we needed to work on with Siddhanth.

Developing good communication with the school authorities goes a long way in the acceptance and inclusion of our children in an integrated setup. The next couple of blogs will touch more on how with better understanding of Siddhanth’s social challenges, several well-wishers have intuitively helped him along his journey leaving us with the firm belief that where there is a will, there is a way when it comes to acceptance and inclusion of individuals with Autism in society in general.

Author Jaya Sudhakar

Jaya Sudhakar has done her Masters in Physics and was employed as an Asst.Manager in a PSU. Her son’s diagnosis urged her to seek voluntary retirement from service. She is actively involved with Forum for Autism, Nayi Disha and The Spectrum Autism. Friends,tending to plants, reading, writing, music, movies, travelling and a little bit of spirituality are her perennial energy boosters.

Typing of story in Word and Creative graphics done by CreativeSaathi Siddhanth Palaparti, Jaya’s son

Siddhanth is a budding graphic designer, coder and music lover. He has graduated in computer applications and completed several certificate courses. His work trajectory includes internships, freelancing and voluntary work for social causes. He derives immense happiness from remembering birthdays and wishing everyone for it. Swimming, travelling and playing music on the keyboard are his other passions.

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