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Working with special kids is rewarding: Dr Vandana Sharma

Life&More March 7, 2017
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Rajkumari Sharma Tankha

 

Dr. Vandana Sharma is the Director and Principal, Mata Bhagwanti Chadha Niketan (MBCN), a charitable school for children with special needs, located at Sector 132, Noida, Uttar Pradesh (India).
Working with special children is a daunting task but Vandana has been doing it for the last 23 years. She started MBCN in 1999 with 20 children, today there are 1000 children attending this school.
MBCN is fully dedicated to the rehabilitation of children with various kinds of mental retardation like cerebral palsy, physical infirmities, seizures, autism, visual and hearing impairments and multiple disabilities.
For her exemplary services rendered to the disabled and their rehabilitation, Amity University honoured her with the Women Achiever, award last year on the International Women’s Day.

Excerpts from an interview:

How and when did you enter the field of special education? This is not a field someone wants to make a career in, so what was your motivation and inspiration.
I was always interested in being involved in some kind of service, some kind of helping profession. I had an opportunity to work with special children during my graduation.For NSS program I visited a Special School. I loved working as a volunteer there and also fascinated by the challenge to choose this as my career.I got myself trained for the same,I joined National Institute of Mentally Handicapped after completing graduation and topped in the batch in whole northern India. I started working for challenged children and continued my studies. After getting married and having my son I completed my post-graduation and Ph.D in psychology.

You are working with special children. How difficult is it to educate them about not just academic learning but also life skills? What sort of challenges did you face or are still facing in your endeavours.
It’s not easy to educate them but yes you can make it interesting for yourself and the child if you are committed and passionate about them. It takes lot of courage and patience to work with children with special needs. When we call them children with “special needs” we need to be a very special individual full of empathy, energy, creativity and lot of love for them.
We don’t have a set curriculum to follow when we train a special child. We need to design customised curriculum for each individual child considering his/her age, gender, family background, type and level of disability. And each child has his own style of learning which has to be considered when we plan their teaching strategy which is obviously different from traditional regular teaching learning methods.
The only challenge I faced or I am still facing is the extreme difficulty in rehabilitating my trained students in their so called ‘Normal’ societies. People do not accept them as a part of society.
Lack of awareness about disability in our community hampers inclusion of persons with special needs in society. Specially about those disabilities which are not visible… .People who want to help people with disabilities only consider physical disabilities. There is a lot to be done for awareness and sensitization beyond marathons and marches (?)which are not of any use to me.

I have seen parents rarely accept that their kids are special. Most live in denial which leads to a lot of suffering in the children. How do you educate parents?
Subject of my thesis for Ph.D was “underlying psychological problems of parents of children with special needs.
Parenting a special child is not an easy job. These parents experience a variety of stressful situations  and stress reactions related to the child’s disability. These include shock, denial, pain, disappointment, depression, frustration, anger, fear, embarrassment, guilt, grief and what not? In addition to the stress of the disability itself, financial strain due to medical bills or quality care, lack of control, egos, attitudes, isolation, even divorce all merge to bombard the family of a special child. Yes, in a marriage where marital adjustment is poor, the stress of dealing with a child’s disability can cause the family system to collapse.
I felt that these children are always dependent on parents and there is lot to be done to empower parents. Counselling is the most important thing which works for them. I do it on regular basis for them.

Is Govt doing enough for such children?
Govt is planning enough for such children but only hurdle is “implementation”. When it comes to implementation…..all those fascinating plans fail most of the time. There is a gap between policy makers and beneficiaries. Middle persons and organisations are not doing that good. Even policy makers need to plan more practical and feasible schemes.

What sort of future these children have, I mean, to what extent can they become financially independent.
They can lead a life worth living and full of dignity provided they are given what they deserve.
First of all quality of training should be improved and secondly opportunity of work should be planned considering their strengths and weaknesses and be more practical. It’s not their limitation if they don’t become financially independent …it’s failure of our system and society if we cannot provide required training ,opportunities and access suitable to them.

What would you like to say to youngsters who want to enter this field?
Working with people with special needs can be tough but it is very rewarding. It is not easy to be a special educator but what is important is giving hope and creating smile on the face of a special child. Being a special teacher is not only about teaching but also giving your heart out to your profession.

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