How Ananth and I Explore Service-Learning Together-1

Service-Learning series (part 1) by Dr.Dasaratha Rama and Ananth Raghunandan

Over 25 years ago, I was the editor of a monograph on service-learning published by the American Association of Higher Education (AAHE). This monograph was a part of a series of monographs on service-learning published by AAHE.
Service-learning integrated community engagement and academic learning. Integration of academic learning distinguishes it from volunteering.
I was also an Engaged Scholar with the Campus Compact, an association in the US dedicated to higher education civic and community engagement whose members include thousands of presidents, faculty, researchers, students, and civic and community engagement experts at colleges and universities.
These early efforts continue to influence how I engage the world and also how I encourage Ananth to engage the world.

Fast forward 25 years…
Service-learning is an approach for empowering neurodivergent learners by encouraging and guiding them in community engagement. As Ananth develops communication skills through theater arts, he is using these skills to create resources for the community. As he learns digital storytelling and web development skills through his coding and other skills, he uses these skills to create something of value to the community.
Ananth may not have had access to institutions and formal service-learning programs in the same way as his neurotypical peers. However, he has been fortunate to have excellent mentors in theatre arts and dance, and a community that encourages and appreciates his contributions.

Our current Projects

1. Creating e-books for RASA

One of our major service-learning projects is to create a series of e-books for Ramana Sunritya Aalaya (RASA). Ananth experiences the magic of Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) explorations daily. He has been blessed to learn from senior facilitators and to explore different forms of TAHD experiences. These e-books and associated resources (videos) are our effort to pay it forward. We want to share our journey and show why and how TAHD can be used to achieve a range of outcomes for neurodivergent learners.
Read our first e-book Teaching Values to Neurodivergent Learners using Theater Arts here.

2. I have encouraged Ananth to create his Youtube channel, Ananth’s Adventures. By sharing our experiences, ideas, and lesson plans, we hope to provide useful resources for parents, neurodivergent learners, and others. Ananth’s regular story of the month and other video projects have helped create a video presence. Thus, I had a space to share my video for the e-book here.

Ananth is also a blogger for SpecialSaathi. View his posts here.
These experiences paved the way for our collaboration on the e-book series.

3. Ananth is now an ambassador for Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) and RASA (Ramana Sunritya Aalaya). Dr. Ambika Kameshwar has done pioneering work in not only using Indian theater arts as a vehicle for learning but also by creating an eco-system for artistes of differing abilities to learn together and perform.

Co-creating Magic with TAHD Facilitators

TAHD ingredients (dance, drama, storytelling etc.) play a critical role in TAHD explorations. While parents can use TAHD tools, skilled facilitators can choose the right combinations of tools to create the right experiences for learners of differing abilities. We are grateful to Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, Dr. Vaishnavi Poorna, Ms. Usha Sankaran, and Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh for their encouragement, guidance, and support in Ananth’s TAHD explorations.
We are delighted that we have the opportunity to work with the RASA team to engage the community in exploring the value of TAHD and in charting a path forward together.

Tips for Parents
Seek ways to engage your community with your child. Many neurodivergent learners have interests and talents in the visual and performing arts, and in other areas. Use these interests to create opportunities for engagement.

Dr. Dasaratha Rama is a professor and home educator. She is currently doing a certificate in Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) from RASA (Ramana Sunritya Aalaya).

Ananth Raghunandan is a student ambassador for RASA and TAHD. Ananth Raghunandan will be starting a diploma in Bharatanatyam shortly.

Their journey from homeschooling to collaborators and co-creators continues!

Join the discussion in our whatsapp group here:


How Ananth and I use Storytelling to Explore Values

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, Ananth started his theater arts journey with Ramana Sunritya Aalaya in 2020. Since that time, he has explored many values through his theatre arts experiences. Value exploration is deeply embedded in Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) experiences. TAHD was developed by Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, Founder and Director of RASA.

The Need for Value Exploration for Neurodivergent Learners

Values give a sensemaking framework and along with movement and other TAHD tools and techniques can help neurodivergent learners manage stress and lead a fulfilling life. Storytelling has been used as a vehicle for teaching values for a long time. Neurodivergent learners experience language processing, auditory processing, working memory, executive memory, and other challenges that pose significant barriers to storytelling and value exploration. However, given these challenges, an explicit teaching of values and daily practice may be even more important for neurodivergent learners as compared to neurotypical learners who acquire values through interactions with many people in daily experiences throughout their lives.

In this post, I will describe our journey of discovery. Over the last 2.5 years, we have seen different ways in which values are explored through TAHD experiences. Ananth started learning Bharatanatyam from Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh, Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) Facilitator, Senior Faculty and Artiste, Ramana Maharshi Center for Learning in October 2022.
As Ananth started learning Bharatanatyam with a TAHD facilitator, value exploration became more systematic and consistent because of the way in which value exploration and storytelling were integrated with the structure of Bharatanatyam lessons. Today, we have started exploring values as a more intentional daily practice.

Exploring Values through Storytelling: The TAHD Way

Watch the video by Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh for an overview of his approach to teaching values through Bharatanatyam, the TAHD way.
Two key points in the video:
1. The Power of Repetition – Ongoing repetition of core values in dance classes reinforces the ideas for students. As mentioned in the video, values embedded in stories are like times tables that can be accessed and used at the right time.
2. Value Exploration – A Co-Production Approach

One key point mentioned by Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh in the video is value exploration as a process of co-production. Co-production is a useful lens especially for older learners. Parents have extensive experience exploring varied approaches and have identified many approaches, tools and techniques that work for their child.

As mentioned in the video, an important way in which parents can contribute is by sharing what values the learner is imbibing and exploring. This feedback can help the teacher refine the lesson plans and personalize it for the learner.

Read more about co-production here:
Quotes from the above article:
• Co-production requires a relocation of power into the hands of families and young people
• Collaborative co-production requires that users are experts in their own circumstances (which families often are) and capable of making decisions. Professionals need to move away from being fixers to being facilitators.
TAHD professionals are referred to as facilitators and this culture of co-production is easy to realize with TAHD.
Evolving a Daily Value Exploration Practice

As Ananth started Bharatanatyam lessons with Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh in October 2022, value exploration had also shifted though we did not realize it at that time. The first indication of this shift was when Ananth decided to narrate The White Peacock story on his birthday. Ramana Maharshi’s love and acceptance of all living beings was a theme that Ananth and I thought about daily as he practiced for his presentation.

Then, we realized that Ananth was drawn to Ramana Maharshi’s teachings on silence. As he practiced the nattadavu (a basic movement pattern that is repeated frequently during lessons) and learned The Golden Mongoose story, we discovered that silence was something Ananth wanted to explore.

As he heard about Ramana Maharshi’s journey to Arunachala and how he desired nothing, Ananth started exploring this value. He started questioning whether we can be completely without desires and how much desire one can have. He also started making connections to other stories. For example, he remarked how Bharat did not have desire and did not want Rama’s kingdom.

The Power of Repetition for Learning Values
Ananth’s first story narration at a SpecialSaathi webinar on his 25th birthday. When Ms. Shilpi Mayank-Awasthi invited him to present, we were thinking of a traditional presentation. Suddenly, he asked whether he could narrate The White Peacock story. I was surprised. So were his teachers. To this day, I am not sure why he wanted to narrate a story and why he chose The White Peacock one. Could it be that the simple story of love and acceptance resonated with him? As Ananth has become older, he is very aware that he is different and cannot make his way through the world as others do. I will never know what motivated him to choose story narration or why he chose that particular story.

However, I think the process of learning used in TAHD classes played a role in sparking this interest. As Ananth repeatedly heard several stories in his dance class, he was processing these stories and would share some thought based on these stories. Imitation is powerful. Young children pick up values as they narrate their favorite stories repeatedly. Dance created an opportunity to imitate The White Peacock and other stories many times while practicing hand gestures. This repetition created multiple opportunities to think about the story and values over time.

It struck me that the imitate, repeat, memorize, and improvise is a process for learning values too. Repetition builds a vocabulary of values as well an understanding through story and movement. Repetition sets the stage for recalling the value as needed.

Integrating Value Exploration and Daily Experiences

We are also finding ways to integrate daily experience and values presented in class. For example, we went to a theatre show in London. A few days before the show, I had injured my leg. So when Ananth went to drink some water, he thought of bringing water to me. In his latest story on Cow Lakshmi, one part of the story was about how Ramana thatha fed idlis to Cow Lakshmi and how he cared for all his devotees paying attention to even small details. I reminded Ananth of the theatre incident and told him that was an example of how he was caring when he brought me the water. This type of reflection is useful because spotlighting small successes makes the individual more aware and more likely to repeat the behavior in the future.

Bharatanatyam and Value Exploration

The following features of the Bharatanatyam class shifted value exploration:

1) Specific stories and values are attached to the adavus (basic movement patterns that are typically practiced at the beginning of each class) and hastas (hand gestures that are also practiced in every class). Since the adavus and hastas are repeated, story and value presentation is also repeated. Repetition is important for drawing attention to and thinking about the values of characters multiple times.
2) Since Ramana Maharshi stories have been carefully selected and sequenced for presentation in the dance class, there is a values curriculum in the dance class.
3) Before the dance class, Ananth was exploring different values in different experiences such as storytelling and drama but aligning the story presentation to the Bharatanatyam lesson structure made the value exploration systematic and consistent.

Ananth has also learned Bharatanatyam in a traditional format for over ten years. In contrast to his earlier experiences, storytelling and value exploration has been a focus in Ananth’s recent TAHD informed Bharatanatyam experience.

A TAHD informed approach to Bharatanatyam may be better for neurodivergent learners because a flexible mix of technical elements of dance, storytelling, value exploration etc. can be crafted based on individual needs. Even for Ananth, this flexibility has been invaluable. For several months, he was more focused on storytelling and developing his monthly storytelling practice and Youtube channel. Now, he has turned his attention more to dance practice.

Value Exploration with Neurodivergent Learners

Consider language processing, auditory processing, working memory, executive memory, and other challenges while practicing storytelling and value exploration. We have used visual and tactile tools for storytelling for years because of these challenges. Since starting storytelling through theatre arts and especially as an integrated practice with Bharatanatyam, Ananth’s ability to process stories through auditory input without any visual support has increased tremendously. Looking back, Ramana Maharshi stories have been an excellent choice for value exploration. Earlier stories such as The White Peacock and Robbers in Ramana thatha’s ashram had few characters and simple storylines. Thus, Ananth was able to pay more attention to value exploration. As stories have become more complex, he also become more familiar with the life and teachings of Ramana Maharshi. Thus, he is able to process more complex stories with auditory input. He is also initiating value exploration in other stories.

Value exploration is important for all learners. I wonder whether it is more important for neurodivergent learners to experience explicit value exploration through storytelling since they experience communication challenges that make it difficult for them to explore values and practice using these values in life experiences through daily experiences. Based on our experiences over the last 2.5 years, I am glad we have had the opportunity to explore values in a systematic and consistent way through Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD).

A Memorable Moment

Ananth attended the Saturday satsang by Ramana Maharshi Center for Learning (RMCL). I suggested that he attend Ujwal’s part as he is accustomed to his storytelling style. The next day, I asked Ananth about the story narrated by Ujwal. He was able to explain about a girl throwing stones to get fruits from a tree, bees getting disturbed and stinging her, and the girl telling Ramana thatha about the bees. Attending to auditory information, comprehending the story, and narrating it with ease are outcomes from Ananth’s Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) experience. While we have explored storytelling for years, we used visual aids to organize and recall information. Further, it is easier to process information and recall during a dance class when there is a lot of movement. Processing oral narration and recalling while sitting down is exciting to see. Exploration of another value, compassion has now started for us.

Author Dr.Dasaratha Rama
Dr. Dasaratha Rama currently doing a certificate in Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) from RASA (Ramana Sunritya Aalaya). Ananth Raghunandan is a student ambassador for RASA and TAHD.

Contributor – Ananth Raghunandan

Join the discussion in our whatsapp group here:


The Golden Mongoose

Please watch the video of the Golden Mongoose Story below and follow me on Ananth’s Adventures. I will be sharing one story each month for parents to enjoy with their children.

This story is about how Ramana Maharshi’s silent presence attracted people and even animals. I am grateful to Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh, faculty and artist at the Ramana Maharshi Center for Learning for his encouragement, guidance, and support of my story of the month project.

Thank You Shilpi mam for encouraging me to share my first story on my birthday on December 2, 2022 on Special Saathi. In March, I practiced the story of the Golden Mongoose. I shared this story on Youtube on World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, 2023.

Thanks to Vinayak Raj, Morpheus Nag, and Dhrov Tikoo for their creative representation for The Golden Mongoose story .

What is Silence?

My mother and I also did a short role play and narration to explain the idea of silence. Silence does not mean absence of speech. Watch the video to explore what Ramana Maharshi refers to as silence and think about how a silent mind can help neurodivergent learners overcome stress and achieve calmness.

Activity for Parents and Children

My storytelling project is a Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) project. TAHD was developed by Dr. Ambika Kameshwar. Use the five TAHD tools to explore The Golden Mongoose story with your child!

Movement and Dance

There is a short dance piece in the story narration itself. In addition, you can also try this longer movement activity

Music and Rhythm

The movement activity includes music.


Watch the Golden Mongoose story with your child and encourage them to tell the story.


Enact the story. Assign roles for Ramana Maharshi, the golden mongoose, and devotees.

Arts and Crafts

See the creative representations by CreativeSaathis and draw the story while narrating!

We hope you enjoy the story! Share your explorations and additional ideas as comments or email

Author Ananth Raghunandan

BloggerSaathi CreativeSaathi

Smile Brightly and Dance – Part II

Exploring Theater as a Tool for Stress Management 

Many neurodivergent individuals and their parents face significant amounts of stress. This stress arises not only because of challenges that an individual has in areas such as motor functioning, executive functioning, and communication but also due to the environment. Finding the right environments for neurodivergent individuals to thrive is not easy.

Can Theater Arts for Holistic Development be used to teach stress management?

This is the question that I have been mulling since Ananth started his Bharatanatyam lessons with Shri Ujwal Jagadeesh, a senior faculty and artist at Ramana Maharshi Center for Learning (RMCL), Bengaluru.

Ananth has been learning Bharatanatyam for more than 10 years.  Even during the first lesson with Ujwal, I felt a striking difference in his approach from Ananth’s past experiences. I had connected with him through the Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) program by RASA India. So I already knew that his approach was shaped by TAHD. As lessons continued, I realized that his approach represents an integration of The Ramana Way and The TAHD Way! Ramana Maharshi is one among the great spiritual masters of India who has guided the world to get back to their own nature which is divine and blissful. Thank you Morpheus for your amazing artwork for our blog posts! Ananth and I are happy you shared your portrait of Ramana Maharshi with us for our blog.

Artwork by Morpheus Nag

The question below and the response (emphasis added) is from Ananth’s blog post yesterday that included an interview with Shri Ujwal Jagadeesh.

4. Did you start incorporating Ramana Maharshi’s life and teachings in dance before integrating TAHD?

Yes, Ramana came first and with it came the understanding of the true purpose of dance  which is to realize our true nature. I loved listening to stories always. After the training of TAHD the primary goal of all the lesson plans was to understand that our true nature is happiness. These lesson plans includes song, dance and stories.

The first time I observed Bharatanatyam lessons at RMCL, I was struck by the opening lines:

Omkaranai idhayathil ninainde

Mahizhudun Punnagai Purinthen

Thai ya thai ennum spurana thudane

Thataduvai nam saidiuvum

Lyrics by Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh Tamil Translation: Dr. Sarada

These lines invite the student to think of God’s power within themselves and smiling before starting dance. We did four lessons during our first visit. Somehow, these opening lines caught my attention each time. Later I realized that these opening lines shifted aduvu (small patterns of movement and expression that are the building blocks for Bharatanatyam) practice in a subtle but important way.  I continued to observe aduvu teaching during online sessions. The theme of being attentive to God’s power within you and smiling brightly were a part of every lesson!

Smile Brightly and Dance – A 100-Day Project is Born

Over the last month, I have been considering the possibility of TAHD as a tool for practicing emotional regulation and stress management. The Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration (MNRI) video on Strengthening Stress Resilience and Immunity is a useful resource to think about aduvus as a stress management practice. 

Stress is an internal state of the organism and mental processes. A need or demand that is perceived to exceed the resources available to effectively deal with it at a certain time or disease can cause stress. The description of the video notes that MNRI® offers new approaches to enhance stress resilience and immunity, as we contend with the neurodevelopmental impact, the emotional/physical trauma, and the panic from the coronavirus pandemic. The uncertainty and challenges during the pandemic and other situational factors have resulted in a period of stress for Ananth.

So I was intrigued by the possibility of Smile Brightly and Dance as an approach for teaching stress management while teaching dance. Since MNRI is not easily available in India, TAHD and especially the aduvu practice as a way of affect regulation and stress management is a possibility worth exploring.  Even if MNRI were readily available, dance brings the practice into a fun and engaging activity for the learner to take ownership of this practice rather than a therapy organized by others.

Our 100-Day TAHD Project Begins

Once I saw the possibility of using aduvus as a tool for practicing emotional regulation, I started thinking about a 100-Day project.  Aduvus struck me as a powerful tool for creating opportunities for learners to practice facial expression.  Facial expression is also practiced in storytelling and drama but aduvus provide a systematic, incremental, and consistent way of practicing affect regulation daily.  

Hence, the 100-Days of Smile Brightly and Dance project was born.

Day 1: 12-15-2022

Pay attention to God’s power within you.

Ananth is beginning to internalize this message.  Today, he told me that he had a hard time with fast transitions because he was not paying attention to God’s power within him!

Building Positive Thinking Trails

Today, I had an aha moment. Ananth has a tendency to get stuck on negative thoughts/experiences.  So I suggested that the next time he has a negative thought, tell himself that God’s power is within him.  Since Ujwal brings this message daily in one or more ways, this thought (and related thoughts) can provide an alternate path for thoughts.

What we did

Ananth and I did the following together

  1. Vyayama
  2. Tattaduvu  (We tried the Aduvu Adaivu video in the morning but for our purpose, the one Ujwal and Ananth did at RMCL works better.  It is slower and repeats Omkarane twice.

I have decided to practice the exercises and aduvus with him.  While he is doing fine with a teacher or in a group, his attention and concentration have been significantly affected during the last year.  In the early days of learning dance, I used to practice parts of the lesson with him.  For this 100-Day project, I will be doing exercises and some aduvus with him as I think it will help get the most benefit out of this practice.

Day 2: 12-16-2022

Ananth learned one more aduvu in a slower format in his class. We will add that to our daily practice for the 100 days.

Day 3: 12-17-2022

We practiced the mettaduvu. We are seeing a goal for skills practice. Side bending while doing mettaduvu is our goal for the coming week!

The poster below shows our project timeline.

We invite you to create your own Smile Brightly and Dance 100-Day project or some other 100-Day Theater Arts project and share your journey with us in our LIFESMART groups!

specialsaathi Story

Muskaan the Drama queen

A blog on Muskaan’s first drama performance in school on annual day.

मन – day की बात SpecialSaathi के साथ

Dear Shilpi ma’am,

It’s a pleasure to be a part of SpecialSaathi group. This kind of platform is giving immense opportunity to our kids to showcase their talent whether it’s dance, art or drama or writing a blog.

Muskaan is a happy and a cheerful girl. Very caring, emotional but a little introvert by nature. She is 16 years now. She is very intelligent and observant. She is strong but little stubborn too. Can face any problem with a smile. That’s her biggest strength.

She speaks through her eyes and always has smile on her face as her name suggests… 😊. She was born with delayed milestones, so in the initial years of growing up she was diagnosed as a hyper active child and speech was very less in one word conversation or two or three phrases. But with various Speech & OT therapies she started improving. But later we got to know that she has “Selective Mutism “. And she would interact or socialise only in her comfort zone etc.
But as time grew she started learning with various techniques of social stories, play dates and exposure to new & known places.
Convincing her to take part in various activities was a challenge though but I kept on encouraging her to take part in dance show, sports events for three years and she won medals, & trophy 🏆 as well. Which motivated her to keep learning and performing.

With online classes and during pandemic as she didn’t have a choice she started speaking through a “Mike” first & then after a month or so she started to converse with her teachers and peer group verbally. This is how a Selective Mutism child can speak with her own will & confidence, that’s what I understood that day.

So every year participation in school annual day was also delightful to see her performing in dance etc. But this time it was Middle school participation in Dec’22.

So I am happy and proud to share that as Muskaan first time took part in drama performance at her school Annual day function. The drama named ” Safarnama” where she played a role of a guard to a king who was very possessive for his silver treasure. And the part which everyone ( her teachers & spectators) appreciated was that the dialogues were in bhojpuri .

The way muskaan learned them, understanding the co-ordination sequence with other kids ( main stream kids who she didn’t know) to go up & down the stage left & right on stage. Saying the dialogues as the drame performance. Imitation, synchronisation.

Patience level to cope up with anxiety to perform, as to who all will come, what will people & teachers say. How will the costume be. Apprehension towards wearing sun glasses as everything seemed to be blurred. Intelligence of putting them on nose to see the audience.

Initially I was not comfortable with the idea of her taking part in drama I thought dance is what she liked more but her teacher made me understand that this kind of exposure will be good for her.

And she was right, so many things she learned in last couple of weeks. And one of the areas which can be explored in future for her social interaction building and overcoming her fear of performing on the stage infront of the audience.

Muskaan was lucky to get this kind of role and she performed so well.

With applaud from their seniors , principal , teachers, family and friends made her very happy and excited.

Staying in a school for 10 hrs was not easy in last week at a stretch of 3 days. But I am glad she did it.

The hard work always pays and clear “Victory over fear”.

Stupendous performance. I wish she gets many such opportunities in future too.

Sharing few pics & video of her performance in this blog.

Hope you ll enjoy watching the same.

Regards Divya Surie

Author Divya Surie

I am a house wife and I run my own garments work from home. I love drawing and painting as it’s is my passion. I learned various forms of painting glass, canvas, water and oil colour etc…at the age of 40yrs. And few of my beautiful creations are now my house decoratives.😀So age is just a number.
I also help my daughter in designing of tote bags, wedding envelopes, pouches and gift tags. Basically she is now a part of “Sitaara Crafts” a platform where all kids with special needs can showcase and sell their talent. With making of beautiful and amazing products from best out of waste. We sell through Instagram too 😀.

ToteBag designed by Muskaan Surie