SPECIAL MOM STORIES
Meenakshi is a 37 year old mother from Coimbatore. Her ‘special’ son Pradeepan was born in 2002 and never spoke a word for 3 years! Alarmed, Meenakshi took him to a doctor who said that he was mentally challenged and needed to be admitted in Star Special School for rehabilitation. Pradeepan, Meenakshi and the school’s special educators had to work very hard to get him to start speaking and interacting as they had lost a lot of time. But their hard work has paid off, and last year, with the teachers’ help Pradeepan sat for the Std. 8 exams and scored 212 marks out of 400! Pradeepan is also very talented in art and sports and has won many prizes. Meenakshi and his teachers are now preparing him for the Std. 10 Government Exam!
The general, and mistaken idea that much of society has accepted is that special children can never get into the mainstream. But Pradeepan’s story must serve as a wonderful eye-opener, proving that with the right care and effort, these children have a chance of leading near normal lives. Meenakshi’s dream is to make her son as normal and as independent as she possibly can. With the help of the Special Educators, this dream is becoming a reality. “I want to be a good mom and a good friend to my son”, she says with a disarming smile. In our eyes, she already is!
Jamuna is the mother of Vignesh, a 25 year old ‘special’ child. Jamuna has 3 children together with her fisherman husband, but Vignesh is their only ‘special’ one. He was a cross-legged, blue baby at birth and the doctors feared that he would develop cardiac problems in addition to being mentally and physically challenged. Jamuna was told that Vignesh wouldn’t survive for long. But he did, and Jamuna enrolled him in a special school where he is being given physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy till date. As he grew, Vignesh had to have a critical heart surgery and Jamuna appealed to the public through the newspapers collecting Rs. 3.5 lakhs, which was just enough to cover her son’s surgery at Apollo. Thankfully, this was a success!
Jamuna and his teachers have patiently molded Vignesh into the person he is today. He was offered the opportunity to run a stationery shop on NIEPMD’s premises. This busy young man attends physiotherapy, speech and vocational training classes in the morning and runs his shop for the rest of the day earning around Rs. 5000/- a month. Vignesh takes pride in his little shop and the money he earns is spent on his medication and other requirements. He hopes to grow his business.
“The doctors gave up on him but we didn’t”, says Jamuna. “I’m so proud of my son. He’s a successful entrepreneur and a sportsman who has won many prizes. Vignesh is my blessing in disguise.”
Shankaragomathy is a 51 year old mother of 2 special children – Ezhilarisi (17 years old) and Karankumar (15 years old). Her husband deserted her and her own family shunned her. Left to fend for herself and her children, Shankaragomathy struggled through the initial years. She could not get a proper house for rent being a single mother, and unsympathetic landlords refused to renew their annual agreements. So, Shankaragomathy was literally forced to move with her children each year. And then she heard of NIEPMD (National Institute for Empowerment of Persons with Multiple Disabilities). This was her last glimmer of hope and she began taking her children there regularly over the past 8 years. Both children are mentally and physically challenged. They were almost crippled when they started out at NIEPMD but today they are walking with assistance and making good progress day-by-day through the various therapies they are exposed to there. More importantly – they are now part of a wider family! “Our own family deserted us but NIEPMD has given us the hope to continue. For this, I will always be grateful,” she says, bordering on tears.
How a society treats its disabled is the true measure of a civilization! One of the ways we can and should educate society about assuming responsibility towards the intellectually disabled is to consistently engage and expose it to crucial learnings and thinking on the subject. After all, when a flower does not bloom we fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower!
Nagalakshmi is a 41 year old mother of twins Sivaraj and Nagaraj, both 16 years old. The children did not speak until they were 5 and the doctor advised the parents to immediately enroll them in a special school. Nagalakshmi’s husband ran a cool drinks beverage shop at the Chidambaram bus stand and on their meagre earnings they managed to enroll the children in a day care center in their area. Only then were they made aware that their children were living with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and Mental Retardation (MR). The family was shattered.
Since joining school and receiving speech therapy the children have begun to speak, although slowly. The family wanted to provide them the best education so they relocated to Chennai. “I am so grateful to my friends in Chennai who helped me identify a good special school”, Nagalakshmi says, “and I want to make my children independent.” Nagalakshmi has enrolled them in the Spastic Society of Tamil Nadu where she works as a support staff. She and the teachers are now preparing the boys for the Standard 10 Examinations through the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) system. “This is my greatest happiness,” says a very contented Nagalakshmi.
She says she has absolutely no words that can truly express the gratitude she bears toward family members who have stood by her in bringing up the children. “I am also very thankful that Sri Arunodayam has recognized us mothers and the immense sacrifices and hard work that becomes so much a part of living with children with intellectual disabilities. I really wish all special children do well in their lives and receive the love and support they deserve, just like my children,” she says.
Karpagam is a 54 year old mother of 3 children. Her third son is a mentally and physically challenged young adult who is 25 years old. The young adult is completely dependent on her for all his personal needs. He cannot walk and is undergoing physiotherapy. She takes him to the hospital every day for this. “We are daily wage earners and our income depends on how regularly we go to work. It’s difficult to be regular at work because of the various issues we have to face with his disability. So many people advised me to put my son into an orphanage but I don’t have the heart to do this. I’m determined to take care of him all my life,” she says with conviction.
Hemalatha’s son Karthikeyan is 23 years old. He was a blue baby at birth and suffered with frequent bouts of fits. She decided to quit worrying about the situation and take specific action. Hemalatha enrolled him in a special school for special education and rehabilitation, and he is making good progress. She encouraged him to take up sports, and to her surprise, he is so good that he won several awards and medals in sporting events for special children. “My son has the confidence to manage on his own,” she says, “he’s busy printing beautiful mugs now,” she says with a happy smile.
Nagaraja Vellamal is a 37 year old mother of 2 special children. Her son developed cerebral palsy as a result of complications with the umbilical cord at birth. She was heartbroken. “I never wanted to have another child but my parents insisted. My daughter was born with a problem and I had to enroll both my children in a special school,” she says. The school’s principal advised her to pursue higher studies in special education and she completed her B.Ed Degree. “All I want now, is the welfare of my children and other special mothers like myself. I want to see an inclusive society where special children are respected and protected,” she says.
Nasim Banu is a 35 year old mother of twin girls. They are autistic. Originally from Mumbai, they came down to Chennai just to enroll their children in a good special school. The girls are studying in NIEPMD and the school gave Nasim Banu’s husband a job on its premises so that their family could live together and bring up the girls in a caring and conducive environment. “I am so grateful to NIEPMD for keeping my family together”, she says, “We have nothing else going for us but each other.”
Valli is the 56 year old foster mother of Lakshmi, who is her sister’s daughter. Valli put Lakshmi (who is almost 40 years old) in NIEPMD special school where she is being vocationally trained. Lakshmi is totally dependent on Valli for her personal needs. “We come from a poor family and we are finding it difficult to take care of all of Lakshmi’s needs but we are happy to be able to bring some improvement in to her life”, she says. “Lakshmi calls me “Amma” now, which is a great feeling. I am proud of her and I will take care of her for the rest of my life.”
Amuda married her Uncle, as is the prevailing culture in the South, and as a result of the close bloodlines gave birth to a special child. The child did not cry at birth as normal children do, which gave Amuda a clue that something wasn’t right. “My husband doesn’t work, and to keep my family going I took up tailoring. I’ve taken my daughter to many a temple to pray for her, but to no avail. Accepting life the way it is, I’ve now enrolled her in a special school and I’m taking life as it comes – one day at a time”, she says.
Ponni is a 37 years old mother who is bringing up her special child single-handedly. Ponni suffered with high fever during her pregnancy which appears to have affected her child. He daughter did not cry at birth and Ponni was told that the child was mentally challenged. Ponni admitted her to a special school nearby because the child is bedridden and severely challenged. “My husband passed away and my normal son supports me in caring for this child”, she says.
Girija Sriram , is the mother of 30 year old Aishwarya, who lives with autism. “30 years ago there was absolutely no information on this condition, so I admitted my daughter in a normal school. I worked as a special educator at MNC Chennai which helped me understand more about autism,” she says. “I had to give up my job to look after my daughter who is a jigsaw puzzle expert. I helped her develop that skill to its fullest potential and she has won so many prizes that it’s hard to count. Aishwarya has also written a book. My husband and I spend quality time with her and she is learning to cut vegetables, wash clothes and cook”, Girija says.
Arunambigai is 46 years old. Her first son is mentally challenged but she has worked hard to educate him. With special education he was soon able to join a normal school through the open schooling system. He passed the 10th Standard Exam, completed ITI and is working at NIEPMD now. He is very creative and does printing on mugs, key chains, bags and boxes. Arunambigai’s second son was born in 1999 and suffered with fits. He went into a coma for more than 5 years before passing away. Kudos to this amazing and resilient mother!
Vivekalakshmi is the 50 year old mother of Ramu who is 25 years old. Ramu is mentally challenged and hyperactive with a 90% disability prognosis. He is the only child as his parents decided not to have more children. The couple are completely devoted to Ramu. “We haven’t been able to participate in any family function because of our situation. How I wish society was more inclusive,” she says. Vivekalakshmi is very fortunate to have her husband standing by her and Ramu. More fathers need to emulate the wonderful example of this simple and devoted man.
Thilagavathy is 55 years old. Her first child was mentally challenged and passed away in a few years. She had two boys after that and both were mentally challenged. Life was not easy for her and her husband. They suffered much on account of the stigma, and faced a lot of challenges in bringing up the two boys. Thilagavathy enrolled them in NIEPMD and they are now active sports persons. They love to participate in sporting events and have won several medals and prizes. For patiently bearing life’s three-fold challenges, she truly deserves our respect.