‘Every child is special’ read the tagline of a famous Bollywood movie, ‘Taare Zameen Par’. Indeed, every child is special, but is our society open enough to accept and nurture these special children?
A quote on Pinterest rightly points out, “Children with disabilities are like butterflies with a broken wing. They are just as beautiful as all others, but they need help to spread their wings.”
In our present society, it is not that easy to find people who are there to help these butterflies spread their wings. Sadly, special children are seldom given the environment they deserve.
Megha Kumbhar, a 43-year-old, Mumbai based B.com and B.Ed. with Special Education qualifications, has been helping and teaching special children for the past 20 years. ‘Nurturing Talents’ as she calls it, has been beautifying the lives of children with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, mental retardation (mild to severe), learning challenges and even autism.
How did it all begin
It all began when Megha came to know about a unique B.Ed course through her father’s colleague. It was something Megha had not heard of before and found it entirely different from other post-graduation courses. She decided to take up the same and gave interviews for her admission. Finally, Megha got admission in the B.Ed (Special Education) course and this was the turning point of her life. She realised that this not just her passion but also something she wishes to continue for a lifetime.
Megha never liked the teaching patterns which was present in regular schools. “I always like to teach students as per their strengths and abilities. Each and every child has a potential and talent. As a teacher, I need to find out these hidden potentials and this makes my work easy while teaching my students. I believe that if a child can’t learn the way we teach him/her, I have to teach them the way they can learn,” says Megha.
Her first break
“My first break was when I started working as a Lesson Supervisor at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institute of Mentally Handicapped, Bandra Reclamation for a year. Here I was getting a nice salary but was not getting any practical experience, so after completing a year, I left this job and started working as a special educator in a newly started Center for Autism in Malad,” says Megha.
Here Megha said that she had good hands-on experience that she was looking for. At the centre, she started working with multiply challenged children under one roof including Down Syndrome, autism, slow learners and cerebral palsy too.
She further adds, “My salary here was very less but within a year, my principal gave me two increments, which was a great achievement for me. Simultaneously I started taking private home visits in different areas.”
How motherhood changed things
After she delivered a baby boy, Megha took a year’s break. She then resumed working in the same centre and almost two years later, she decided to leave the job and started taking home visits. She started visiting Thakur Village in Kandivali (East), Mumbai where she used to teach seven students in a whole day based on one to one sessions.
Starting her own setup
After seven years, Megha realized that her son needed more attention, which was lacking owing to her hectic schedule. She recalls, “When my son was in 3rd standard in August 2009, I decided to start my own set up from home. At that time, I had only four students coming to my place to learn, but gradually with time the number increased.”
Now, since the last nine years, Megha has been working from home and has taught over 50 students over the last 20 years now. She has now established a small set up in Dahisar, teaching 11 students with different abilities from different age groups.
Right now she is also teaching students with slow learners, autism adults, students who need special personal attention in their studies, including ADHD as well.
Megha says, “I never calculate. I used to make lots of teaching aids, visual schedules for children with autism. It was very expensive to get colour printouts in the beginning. My husband taught me basic computer skills which helped me a lot.”
“Fewer schools have adopted a proper curriculum structured for special needs students. Therefore, lots of students don’t have access to proper remedial teaching at the beginning of their academic years. Many students come to me at the age of 8 to 9 years of age and I start by developing even their basic academic skills and also keep up with the regular standard curriculum. Inclusive education is a must for all the children with special needs, but due to lack of awareness in our society, these children are not receiving proper facilities which they deserve,” feels Megha.
Megha further adds, “When dealing with these children, one should have a lot of passion, positive attitude and a broad approach towards children. It’s one kind of service which we provide and get a lot of mental satisfaction.” She further adds, “You should be creative while dealing with such children because you don’t get a readymade program for these type of students. I actually need to prepare an Individual Education Plan for each child as each child is different.”
Dealing with special children
Megha primarily teaches slow learners, children with Dyslexia as well as adult autistic children. “Currently, I am teaching students with slow learners, autism adults, students who need special personal attention in their studies, ADHD as well. My working style, the way I deal with my students and my teaching efforts are on their way helping to spread the word. The best part being, there is transparency between me and the parents of my students and I firmly believe that trust and faith are very important here.”
When dealing with these children, Megha explains that one should have a lot of compassion and a positive attitude towards these children. She says, “It’s one kind of service where you’re rewarded with immense mental satisfaction. You should be creative while dealing with such children because you won’t have easy access to readily available programs to teach such students. And the best part is, these kids always give back their 100% spirit in whatever work they do.” What Megha feels wonderful about is that the faith and trust she receives from these children encourages her to give her best to them.
Planning the Individual Education Plan for Special Kids
After assessing the child’s capabilities and by considering their chronological age and academic Standard, Megha carefully designs their Individual Education Plan (IEP). She says, “When a new child comes to me, it takes time to build a rapport which is crucial for learning. After completing some sessions, I get an idea regarding how to communicate with the child, their behaviour, their interest towards academics, ways of understanding and based on an in-depth observation, it helps me to design their IEP.”
Addressing the ‘special’ in education & its awareness
For Megha, education gives life a meaning and a purpose. Children make progress at different rates and have different ways in which they learn best. She feels that a child’s early years are a very important period for their physical, emotional, intellectual and social development. However sadly, special education has not yet received its due, especially in a city like Mumbai. She feels that there are very few schools having special need set up and it is the right of every special child who should get maximum facilities through mainstream education.
She further adds, “Lack of awareness among education authorities, parents, even medical professionals don’t have enough knowledge regarding available resources in the society. Owing to lack of trained and experienced staff, it leaves the parents helpless. If the parents are lucky, then they have access to valid and structured resources. Sadly, even professionals are charging very high, which many parents cannot afford! In such situations, it is very important to get a child diagnose in early age so that it can get benefits and start progressing sooner.”
What makes her teaching method unique?
Megha personally works with every student and here are some of the key points of her teaching strategies:
- Focusing on individual’s achievement, individual progress and individual learning style.
- Structured curriculum
- Break down each task into small subtasks
- Using quality teaching material
- One to one session for one and half hours (4 or 5 days in a week)
- Provide ample independent, well-designed intensive practice work
- Using effective learning resources for teaching
- Tracking student’s yearly long-term goals
- For Autistic adults- developing their pre-vocational skills such as painting, sticking, pasting, tracing patterns, pre-cooking skills, printing, assembling and more.
- Working on building self-confidence by motivating them.
Number of special children taught
Megha has taught more than 50 students within these 20 years of her career. She says “Each child inspires me in his or her own way. There are some students who attend my classes since the last 10 to 12 years, ever since they were four years old.”
Parent-teacher bonding is also the key to her success. According to her, a special child is always very pure at heart, always ready to give their 100 % if your way of teaching is appropriate.
“I always enjoy teaching these students. I can’t relax if I don’t work. I love my job. My job is my first priority. I always believe that God has made us guide these children, to nurture them the way they are. It is my duty to show the best path to their success by all means. These children are innocent, pure-hearted and keeping faith in me. they have shown me the goal of my life. I am really thankful to them, because of them I could create my own identity.”
Learning from the students
Learning is unique. It is never one-sided. A good tutor, mentor or guide will learn as much from his/ her students as much as they impart. As Megha recalls, “Atharva, a multiply disabled child had come to me when he was in Grade 1. He was full of energy, focussed on learning and was very fond of music. I had the privilege to teach him for four years. After his brain surgery on 30th July 2016, he went into a coma and never come back. He taught me compassion, dedication towards our work and I still miss him a lot.
Megha aspires that soon she would like to meet some of the school authorities, day care centres and private nurseries to spread awareness about special children and their education. There must be a centre with all specialized resources under one roof, where maximum children get these benefits.
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