Often when a new parent walks into my clinic, it is not uncommon for them to ask me how many of my past clients have been “mainstreamed”. As a therapist I am willing to acknowledge that the success of intervention lies in how near “normal” the child has reached. But as a human being I often wonder if a child is a success only if he goes to a mainstream school? how can we ignore the success of the child who despite all odds, stood tall in every task he completed? Are academics the only measure of success? At times like this, I often remember a mother and child who I taught sometime between 2004–2008.
I first met Maher and Rahath when Maher was 4 years old (Names not changed, they deserve the credit for what they have achieved). He had already been through an early intervention programme and was referred to me as a child who was not ready to enter the mainstream. 2 or 3 years down the line, Maher had still not entered the mainstream and he went on to join the special school I was running in those days.
At 5 Maher could sight read a number of words. He could do simple addition. And by 6 he was a whiz at using Microsoft Paintbrush. Every image he created on Paintbrush was a wonder for us. He had taught himself to use Paintbrush with absolutely no help whatsoever. And he wouldn’t allow any interference with it to the extent that Rahath would save the images after tricking him away from the PC. Rahath never stopped marvelling at his ability. She herself was technologically challenged in those days. All the while Maher remained minimally verbal. Drawing words out of him was more challenging than pulling teeth with a pair of tweezers.
This was a mother who had totally devoted herself to her children. She was staying here in Bangalore solely for Maher as she felt that the place where her husband worked did not have adequate special education facilities. With a lot of persuasion, she finally moved back with her husband. But she never forgot the early intervention years and remained in touch.
Whenever someone asks me about my successes, it is so hard for me to disregard Maher. I know that if I speak of Maher to a young parent, he/she might feel disheartened. He/she might even feel if this is a success then what can we really expect out of this therapist. Yet Maher had been diagnosed as severely autistic. Yes, he is still minimally verbal. But his mother never gave up on him. And she never stopped appreciating him. Every visit to Bangalore she never forgot to meet me and thank me. When I asked her permission to use his video for this write up, her reaction was, “you are his guru Vanitha, you can use it”.
Rahath’s belief in her son and her determination to help him at all cost is something that needs to be lauded. Yes, the child who goes to mainstream is a success but these are the real heroes. Heroes who never stop the hard work. Unlike many parents who drop out of intervention programs as soon as the child learns to speak, these children slog all their lives, just to learn every little task others take for granted. And unlike many teenagers who may not pick up their scattered belongings in their room, Maher, takes pride in pouring out tea for his mother, running the washing machine for her or even putting away her shopping. How many mothers are able to say that their child helps so much around the house?
I would like to share this little video of Maher undergoing training at his vocational centre. Proud of you Maher and Rahath!