CHENNAI: Twenty years ago, Priya Rajkumar uprooted her life in Salem and moved to Chennai for her son. “He has profound disabilities. Doctors had told us that there was no cure for it and referred us to the Spastic Society in Chennai. That’s how we found out about Madhuram Narayanan Center (MNC) for Exceptional Children,” she said. Now the principal of the Center, Priya had enrolled her son in 1994.
“I was a lecturer briefly before my marriage. When I enrolled my son at MNC, the programme was designed to have parents work with their children. I learned how to understand the strengths of my child and support his growth. When MNC came out with their diploma course on special education, I took it to be closer to my child and help other parents understand their children better,” she said.
In her presentation at the inauguration of the 6th International Conference and 16th National Workshop held by Madhuram Narayanan Center on Thursday at Savera Hotel, Dr Beena Koshy spoke about four types of parental approaches to children. “Ideal parenting is a mix of these approaches. In India, most grow up with their grandparents and other relatives too.
If everyone is not in sync with what approach to use, the child may grow up to be entitled or insensitive. The idea of an inclusive education system is to have children overcome their disabilities and be treated normally by their peers. It is on the parents to sensitise their children about that,” she said.
Established in 1989, the Madhuram Narayanan Center for Exceptional Children was the brainchild of Air Vice Marshal V Krishnaswamy and his wife Jaya Krishnaswamy. “In the 80s, the term ‘disability’ was not used commonly and not understood in totality. Intellectual disabilities had not gained attention and was called mental retardation,” she said. They designed a learning programme called Upanayan which supervises the overall growth of the child from a young age. “We wanted to dissociate the act of charity from special education. Children are a part of our society, to nurture and grow them is what we do, regardless of disability,” she added.
The Center believes in an inclusive method of learning, where the focus is on what the child can learn rather than teaching them something they cannot. “Everyone is good at some things and bad at others. We build on our strengths and that’s exactly what we must encourage when it comes to people with intellectual disabilities,” said Dr Beena Koshy, HoD of developmental paediatrics, Christian Medical College, Vellore.
“The Center has a no-rejection policy and we take in all children below the age of six,” said Dr Aruna Rathnam, executive director of MNC. “Each child is assigned a doctor, physiotherapist and teacher to monitor their growth. Parents are counselled and taught how to care for their child. We have a few outstation parents who come for sessions every three months or so from places like Madurai. We teach them exercises and techniques to educate their child at home,” she added. Dr Rathnam stressed on the fact that the parents’ involvement in educating their child is a crucial part of their development.
MNC sees over 600 students every year. With activities like yoga and games, teachers tap into skills the child displays and build on them. “What lies behind us and what lies before us a small matter in front of what lies within us. There are great things of value that lie within us. Every person has a gift inside and each individual matters,” said Robert G Burgess, consul general of the US Consulate, at the event.