‘And this award goes to our oldest student, 63 years old Santosh Kumar Tewari,’ announced Swati Sharma the Principal of Asha Jyoti an institution run for mentally challenged children in Lucknow. It was amazing!
‘Sixty three years, and still a student?’ I asked the Principal after the annual function.
‘Yes he is mentally challenged and he will remain a kid, irrespective of his age,’ was the reply.
There were 110 ‘children’ participating in the annual day programme of the institution and no one could make out at first glance that they were mentally challenged. It was only when observed carefully their expressions or the gait which gave away their condition.
Mental retardation or MR in a child could be of three degrees. Mild MR (IQ-50-69) may not be apparent in a child until his schooling starts. This is a confusing situation as a child with poor learning skill may be mistaken to be mentally retarded child. People with mild MR can learn self care and practical skills as cooking, weaving or even traveling in a public transport. Such persons can even attain mathematical skills equivalent to a 9 to 12 year old normal child.
Moderate mental retardation (IQ 35-49) is nearly always apparent within the first years of life, says the Wikipedia. Persons with IQ ranging from 32 to 50 has a mental level equal to 1/5th of his present age or even slightly less, says Dr Shailendra Mehra, Honorary Secretary of Asha Jyoti. Thus a 30 years old MR person may be mentally equivalent to five or six years old
Child. Such persons can acquire skills and can work in a sheltered workshop.
However, a person with severe or profound mental retardation needs constant care and intensive support for the life. Apart from constant care such people do not have a bladder control and it becomes difficult at times for the care giver to manage them. That is why often such children are denied admission in schools for MR.
It is estimated that in our country there are ten million MR persons. Compared to their population the care giving schools or institutions are limited. Therefore a majority of MR children have to depend upon their parents or family members only. A MR is a problem for the parents and the family all through. Worst part is that after the death of the parents such children lead a miserable life.
Mentally challenged should be the proper term for such persons because mental retardation is often taken as derogatory and people presume that retardation is there because the person is below normal intelligence level. Very few parents know that a MR can learn many skills and perform better than a normal, so called intelligent person. For example Nibha Tripathi a student aged about 35 years and a student at Asha Jyoti has excelled in sewing, dancing and table Tennis. Her talents have not gone unnoticed and she has been selected to represent India in Table Tennis for the Special Olympics to be held at Athens in July 2011.
It is many times difficult for the parents to assess the mental abilities of the child. If your child learned to sit up or crawl or walk later than other children he/she may be heading for mental retardation. However, merely such symptoms are not sufficient to confirm whether the child is MR or not. A child with one or more of the symptoms like delayed speech learning, deficient memory skills, does not understand the social rules, feels difficulty in problem solving skills, has delayed development of adaptive behavior like self care and lacks social inhibitions may be a mentally retarded child.
If you feel so, you must consult a specialist and decide to admit the child in one of the care giving institutions.
In the institution or the school the expert teachers on the basis of an assessment done with the help of the parent place the child with others showing similar traits. According to the level of his/her disability the child is imparted training. The children at Asha Jyoti for example have groups which excel in weaving, envelop making, candle making, painting, dancing, even playing musical instruments and participating in games and athletics etc.
It is sad that MR is often accompanied by speech or hearing impairment. Thus children with sufficient intelligence for skills but with a speech disability find life tougher than others. Fortunately with the advancement of technology autistic MR children are given speech therapy training to express self. The learning capability of these children is so profound that many of them are able to perform intricate yoga under an expert.
Problems for MR are many. Their numbers are increasing every day, yet the schools where they can be made self sufficient are very few. Above all majority of the parents are not aware that sending a child to such school will improve the condition of the child. For example, Santosh Kumar Tewary, the oldest ‘child’ at Asha Jyoti used to be violent at times but after a few months in the school his behavior changed miraculously, said his younger brother Jeewan Chandra Tewary. Similarly N.N Sharma a parent whose daughter is studying at Asha Jyoti said that since my daughter started attending this school her behavior has become much better and even her attacks of schizophrenia are much less now! She has been studying in the school for the past 20 years and is able to lead a normal life at home and amazingly even cooks food. Similar praise was expressed by Sardar Virender Singh. His grand daughter Jasleen Singh is able to lead a normal life at home now he said.
Despite all praises the problems for MR are many fold and continue to be there. For example some of them become experts in various skills like weaving, candle making etc. But if they are left on their own there is no official or private agency to sell their products. Thus they have to remain dependent on the school for the life. The Government on the other hand has its own rules as such there is no grant for a child who has spent more than 18 years in the school. There are many such students not only in Asha Jyoti but in several schools across the country that depends upon the government’s aid. The net result is that the school has to somehow manage the upkeep of children who have spent more than 18 years in the school through financial assistance from private individuals says Dr Mehra of Asha Jyoti.
It is a fact that no person or school can replace in the process of improving the condition of a MR other than the parents. A MR should be allowed to take part in all the family activities and treated as normal with more love and care and the results are phenomenal. The best quality of a mentally retarded person is that the words like greed and intrigue do not exist in his/her dictionary says S.C. Pant, the founder Director of Asha Jyoti. What he needs is pure love and returns it with more gusto. Such a child should never be isolated or made to feel that he is alone or not a part of the family. They are very sentimental and often develop deep emotional bonds or even hatred amongst each other or with a particular teacher, says Dr Mehra. All such factors have to be taken care of while rearing a MR.
When asked, ‘How do you feel at the end of the day after having spent a day with these kids?’ I could notice the tears upwelling in her eyes even before she started replying the question. ‘For me each day is a new day and most challenging and at the end of the day it is most satisfying. I have a son who is MR, but here in the school I am a mother to so many MR that I feel happy and contended every day’, she replied. Swati has two daughters that are normal and a MR son. She has done Special education course for handling and teaching such children. Thus she says that her daughters also understand how to interact with their MR Brother and all the three kids have deep affectionate bond between them.
Santosh Kumar Tewari @ school at 63
Nibha Tripathi, the TT girl,
Some love to play musical instruments
Taking a cue from Swati during a group dance.