“Trails of Hope”, compiled and edited by ALS Founder Manoj Krishnan, is a comprehensive exploration of teaching methodologies tailored to the unique needs of children with special needs. It compiles contributions from leading experts, educators, and parents who share their experiences, wisdom, and innovative strategies. It is a beacon of hope – actually a brilliant Help Book for those seeking effective approaches to nurture the potential of special needs children.
The anthology’s most commendable feature is its commitment to inclusivity. It recognizes the vast diversity within the special needs community.
“Trails of Hope” dives deep into various teaching methodologies, providing a well-rounded understanding of each approach. Traditional methods like Behaviour Analysis, Speech Therapy, and Occupational Therapy are explored alongside newer, innovative techniques such as play-based learning, music therapy, and assistive technology. Each chapter is written by an expert in the respective field.
Real-life narratives and case studies breathe life into the teaching methodologies discussed. Readers can connect with the challenges, triumphs, and heart-warming stories of educators, parents, and special needs children. These personal accounts not only illustrate the effectiveness of various methods but also offer invaluable insights into the emotional and practical aspects of working with special needs children.
Beyond teaching methodologies, “Trails of Hope” emphasizes the importance of empathy and understanding. It encourages educators and parents to view special needs children as individuals with unique strengths, rather than focusing solely on their challenges.
Each expert has given us gems of wisdom.
I share a nugget from each.
Ms Merry Barua rightly says, “Stop saying we are not equipped to support autistic students in our classrooms, and instead start saying how do we become equipped to support them.”
Ms Indrani Chatterjee points out that “Diagnosis of autism can be difficult because there is no medical test like a blood test. Psychologists, psychiatrists, or neurologists will evaluate the child’s developmental history and behaviour to make a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
Ms Nisha Tandon refers to IEP or The Child’s Individual Education Plan and suggests all children with Down Syndrome must have an IEP with specific targets set for the individual child. Upon completion of specific goals, new targets should be set. This should be complemented with Home-Based Intervention to create an awareness among parents to work towards the set goals. Vocational training must be introduced to help children make a living and be financially independent. Baking and packing items, catering, candle making, and fashion technology should be a part of the vocational therapy.
Ms. Fionika Sanghvi tells us that holistic approach is a reputed strategy for teaching the special needs community. It is an amalgamation of cognitive, emotional, social, kinaesthetic, and therapeutic interventions along with patience, endurance, kindness, and love to be used. The teaching format stresses on the use of a multisensory approach – VAKT (which refers to visual, auditory, kinaesthetic or tactile).
Ms. Kavita Sharma writes about Technology-Based Indigenous and Innovative Intervention for Individuals with Autism and Other Learning Differences and suggests “Prayas-Daksh” as an early intervention tool related to technology that is developed through evidence-based practice. It is called Prayas-Daksh or Daksh and is a model of Best Practice.
Dr. Griva Shah’s article focusses on the Whole Word Approach to reading geared towards an individual who struggles to achieve basic reading skills which hinder the child from achieving the basic academic functional skills from the primary level onwards. The whole word approach is a successful method of teaching functional reading skills. It focuses on children making important connections between reading and real life.
Dr. Mona Patel points out that 90% of the brain develops in the first three years of life and human beings learn everything through practice. Primary impairment in cerebral palsy is a deficit in postural control. So we must provide correct practice of keeping the infants in correct postures mimicking the neuro-typical postures for an elongated period of time and then help children actively use their limbs and engage with toys and the environment while holding the correct posture.
Dr. RM. Sundar Kumar says “When your child receives a diagnosis of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), you will feel that days have become dark, and there’s absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel. The world of DMD is full of challenges, disappointments, changes in families’ priorities, and obstacles at every step but you will experience moments of courage and strength as your understanding of the condition expands, and the important support system you establish around you like family, friends, therapist, and doctors. Creating this network of support will bring solace and courage to move forward to make things better for your child rather than fighting this battle alone.”
Mr. Vikash K Mishra shares his philosophy by so rightly saying, “Neither the prestige of your subject and the power of your instruments nor the extent of your learnedness and the precision of your planning can substitute for the originality of your approach and keenness of your observation.”
“The percentage of sight loss does not equal the percentage of vision loss.” It is vital to involve pupils in as much as possible of the planning, preparation and adaptation of the school environment. Parents, the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) and the sensory support service are all good sources of help and should be involved on an ongoing basis.
Dr. Shweta Mathur Lall gives us the example of a farmer by saying, a farmer gives his tender care equally to all the crops, but more to the ones who grow against the climatic conditions. Similarly, the strata of the society suffering from impairments deserve more concessions and a favourable environment of growth. Inclusive learning with a combination of all modes of teaching – sign language, lip-reading, fingerspelling, cued speech and the pictorial presentation, should go hand in hand. Holistic development of these citizens of our society is our responsibility. It is our duty to enable them to contribute to our country’s growth and lead a respectable life.
Ms. Jayashree Bhattacherjee tells us that it has taken a long time for societies as well as healthcare personnel to recognize that mental health is as significant as physical health, and sometimes even more important. Apart from other therapies, she speaks of Music therapy. Music reaches places and affects things that words cannot. It is the most abstract form of art and expression, and this quality lends it to being the perfect tool to aid the learning process, especially when special needs children are concerned.
Ms. Vandana Saxena feels that as parents we tend to ignore the evident signs of the mental ailments in children thinking, “he’s just a moody child, or she is throwing tantrums,” and we may ignore. However, at times, it gets too late when we realize the need to address the child’s concern medically and the child’s learning ability is already compromised. Mental Health should be the business of all teachers. Before teaching, the teacher must learn and be fully aware of the mental health and learning needs of children with mental illnesses.”
Dr. Lalita Vaitheeswaran has shared a case study. ‘Mihir, (name changed) a special child in class ten, gave the following inputs: He studies in a normal school as per the rules of inclusiveness the school is subjected to. Even though he has been given a choice to drop the more difficult science subjects, he has opted for them as he is able to perform mathematic calculations and that children who opt for science subjects, shouldn’t be evaluated at par with normal children. Assignments are loaded upon these children and they find it difficult to cope, so an orientation program should be held periodically for the special educators.’
Dr. Sujata Chatterjee talks of Blood disorders and says that while breaking the bad news, the caregiver should be truthful and compassionate. Analyzing tasks as per the need of the patients makes teaching systematic and simple
Mr. Akhil S. Paul deals with for Children with Deafblindness, a heterogeneous disorder encompassing a spectrum from mild loss of hearing and vision to total deafness and blindness depending on its varied combinations. Children with deafblindness are impacted by the combination of two major sensory impairments – sight and hearing, which otherwise contribute to 95% of the learning. The teaching strategy must consist of different methods to teach a particular skill and facilitate reaching out to the need of the child. The best strategy is to involve different objectives in one single activity to make the most of every learning opportunity.
Ms. Nishath Kirmani Ali explains that parents and immediate support system must work as a team with utmost patience, sensitivity, and consistency. Growth, development, habits, routines, and changes in a special needs child cannot be brought about overnight. It’s a lifetime of an experience of learning, unlearning, and gradual progress which leads to positive results which can stay for life.
Ms. Zeba Hashmi writes with a positive outlook saying, “If one method closes the door of learning sometimes forever, the other strategy opens the door wide open. If learning isn’t happening- STOP. Repeating the same plan, again and again, is not going to help your child learn. The best time to teach is when both mother and child are happy and in good form. Make sure your child is not tired, hungry, sick, upset, or irritable. On bad days, it’s advisable to put away the teaching program and find out what is bothering him and handle that. Begin at a time of day when the child is receptive, rested, well-fed, and in a good mood.”
I conclude with her words, “There is a magic element in praise, so often praise your child and his smallest achievements which will motivate him to learn more. Your child’s efforts are heroic. Treat him like a hero!”