It was my turn to spend time with the Special Children today. I had looked forward to this day because I was curious to know more about these special children some of whom are autistic. I reached the Enrichment Centre on time and the moment I walked down the corridor to my assigned class, I was greeted most enthusiastically by other special children who were in their classes. The five students of the class assigned to me were to reach at 8:45 a.m.( class for the normal children starts at 8:00 a.m.). In the meantime I was debriefed about all the four students, three boys and two girls. After the debriefing, which included a description about the schedule for the day, I accompanied one of the two teachers to the main-gate to welcome the children. At the gate, I was introduced to many other special children. One girl a student of the class to which I had been assigned seemed to be in a particularly cheerful mood, mischievous twinkle in her eyes, she sang a number of popular Hindi film songs all the way to the classroom. Many of the children we met at the gate were special in some way or the other. There was this particular boy who walked on his toes. When I asked the teacher accompanying me, she told me that he was Autistic and he felt more secure walking on his toes. There was another boy who had been accompanied by his parents. He became agitated the moment he saw his parents walk away. I could see the tenderness in his father’s eyes, who didn’t want to leave his son. It was the mother who was made of sterner stuff who spoke sharply to the father telling him to leave the son. When I asked my fellow teacher, she told me that the fear of his parents leaving him behind was the cause of his agitation. A few days ago, the parents had left him with his grandparents for a few days and this had put a sense of insecurity in his mind.
After we had escorted the five children to the class, Bhuvan was assigned to me. He seemed to be a rather intelligent boy although I was told that he was autistic like the other four. After introductions were over, and everyone greeted me with smiles, Veronica kept on staring at me! She had a rather sweet voice, bright intelligent eyes and a wonderful accent, although she spoke a few words at a time. After this we sang the school prayer and then went out for assembly. Each child carried a board with his or her name on it, and these boards were placed on the ground and the children stood on them. The students after returning to their class then went on to identify the day, date, month, and year. First period for Bhuvan was a work experience period, so he led me to the Carpentry Workshop. His assignment was to cut four pieces of wood and then to plane them with a planer. I had a wonderful time helping him saw those pieces of wood and planning them. At the workshop I met many other special children, some of whom I had seen in the library on various days. They were all curious about me, and so were their teachers. One particular boy came to me and rather excitedly showed me his colourful jacket. Another boy kept looking at me, intelligence gleamed in his eyes. His teacher later told me that he wanted to know more about me, and she told me that once he came to know my name, he would search for information about me from the internet. I told him to go ahead and tell me the next day what he had found out about me. And yes, I told him that I taught English!
After the first period, the children returned to their classes, washed hands and then had their snacks. After this in the second period, Bhuvan had computer class. I accompanied him to the Computer Lab. He was given the task of typing sentences written in a story book on the computer which he did quite accurately! After this we returned to class and Bhuvan and Veronica had another task, which they mimed to me, “walk time”. Before I went out for this activity, I was told by the teachers that they had a habit of taking short cuts and not completing their five circuits. So after a brief instruction not to take a short cut, we set out to the play ground. An innovative method for counting the number of circuits had been devised for them. Each time they completed a circuit, they would remove one Velcro attached red marker from the board which they then placed into the pocket. Veronica was very excited during the walk pointing towards strange plants and herbs while Bhuvan seemed to be more serious, concentrating on the task before him, rather like a more mature C.E.O. of a future company, what with his no-nonsense attitude!
After lunch, fourth period was all about speech therapy, and I accompanied Mohit and Sunil both from the class I had been assigned to. Both of these special students had problems with speech, so the speech therapist made them practice different sounds, and some words. While Sunil had a problem saying the letter “L”, Mohit would answer only if you gave him a choice. Speech therapy over, we returned to class where, I was then given the task of teaching Bhuvan Maths including marking the time on a clock face, which he incidentally did very well, followed by marking lines of a particular length with the help of a ruler, and last but not least, simple sums of division with the help of different objects. The last period was for Occupational therapy, and Bhuvan took me to the Occupational Therapy room where another teacher took him through different routines, swinging from a ladder attached to the ceiling, pedalling, slotting pieces into a cut out puzzle,…and so on. What amazed me so much was that Bhuvan went through each routine with practised ease and confidence!
It was finally time to bid the students and their wonderful teachers a farewell, and all five of those most special students bid me a warm farewell. I was particularly amazed when Veronica said in her rather sweet and distinct voice “Good bye, Rodrick Sir”! She had memorised my name so well.Veronica had the habit of pressing her fingers into her ears most frequently, and when I asked her subject teachers and her therapists, they told me that she did this because she was probably sensitive to a particular frequency of sound and so was trying to block it out. Some of the students seemed to like making noises. At first I found it odd, but then their teacher told me that they liked making sounds because they liked hearing themselves! All this information that I received about autistic children through a single day with them has made me appreciate them even more. They seemed to be really special because they viewed the world from a totally different perspective, one which was most unique from ours! There was a lot that I would be taking away with me. I was also particularly touched by the exceptional patience of the teachers who were looking after the special children. They were quick to praise and appreciate them, they were tender and affectionate towards them, they answered my unending stream of questions patiently, and of course they seemed to have a huge reservoir of ingenuity!