The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep
Dr. Anandi Ramkrishnan can best understand these poignant lines because every day she taps into her inner resources to deal with the challenges of running a school for special children. Anandi started her professional journey as a teacher of Hindi, Sanskrit and Dance and went on to become the Principal of K.R. Raval School, Ahmedabad. But her true calling came when she decided to move to Palakkad her hometown in Kerala and take the reins of a small non-structured Autism Centre in Palakkad in 2017. From just 8 children at the centre back then to 37 students currently, the school has its own story to tell. But today Anandi is instrumental in shaping the life of these Autism children especially since they come from economically weaker sections of the society. To gift them with a life of dignity is a promise she strives to keep in her journey of life.
1. What inspired you to start your school for children with special needs?
Teaching is my passion and I do this as a service. I do not have a child with special needs. I have a certificate from Rehabilitation Council of India and I am specialized in Autism, ADHD & Learning Disability. I feel I have a responsibility to contribute to these special children of God. I feel the mothers of the special need children are the ones who need strength, our reassurance.
2. What are the challenges that you face on a regular basis?
Securing funds are always a challenge especially since our students come from economically weaker section of the society. We have a waiting list of 10 or more students who need financial help. We take them in soon as we get sponsors for these waiting students. God has answered our prayers by sending sponsors in due course of time and we have been able to on-board all students from our waiting list.
3. I think parents need more support in coping with children with special needs. What advice do you give parents?
My motto is to empower mothers so that they get trained to take care of their children. To make them understand the difficulty their children are facing; is the biggest challenge I face. Most of them are under the impression that this is an intellectual disability that can be cured. What they don’t understand is that it is not a disease to get cured. It is a condition; we can only reduce the severity.
4. Tell us a little about your school and its specialty.
Our center Arks Centre for Special Children provides therapies like speech, occupational skills, yoga, sensory integration, drawing, art and craft, music and counseling and guidance, for independent living. We also give training for adaptive daily living, vocational training and job placement for students who are intellectually challenged. Basically we aim to make our students self independent.
5. What have you learnt as a person as you encounter people who have challenges that the rest of the world choose to overlook?
Special people are special; they process information in more or less the same way as us, but some of their channels may be deficient. They have feelings, responses too and deserve their special place in the world. Some of them are amazingly talented, it just that they need a compassionate viewpoint and the social narratives needs to be modulated to include them into daily life, give them equal opportunity and enable them to perform.
6. How can you sensitize the world to the needs of special children?
This is very important question, sensitization. Autism is a spectrum disorder (ASD) and refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges in social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. An estimated 0.9 children are affected in 1000. You have to deal with it; you cannot ignore it and wish it away!
Caregiver education is as critical as training the autistic persons; caregivers at home can do so much. More public awareness programmes on autism by special workers, para medical staff, doctors and social workers must be organized. Knowledge is power. More workshops and performances by autistic persons should be conducted and performances rewarded. There is work going on, but more co-ordinated efforts are needed. We have a long way to go.