How do I cope?

by Nivedita Sengupta
(Courtesy Shri Sahyog – newsletter of Parent Support Group, The Shri Ram School, New Delhi)

“She will never be normal like you and me!”
Her clinical psychologist concluded after a four-day assessment. This seemed the end of our world then but it was really the beginning of our life in its true sense!

Four years back, the coach at a swimming pool laughed as she struggled to float, throwing her arms and legs around as I helplessly instructed her from the deck (I couldn’t swim)! I asked him ”If she’d be your own child could you do the same?” He got the message, in ten days he taught her to swim across the breadth of the pool, independently. Now, people are surprised at her stamina; she can swim up to 10 – 12 lengths in an Olympic size pool. The way she floats on water amazes expert swimmers.

In spite of having special abilities like reading at a very early age, and a very sharp memory, she had difficulty in answering questions, focusing on an activity for long, understanding conversation and social transactions, and expressing herself. Still I was hopeful that, in time, she’d catch up and be a “normal” child. I tried admitting her to all “good” schools of Delhi, but why’d anyone choose to accept a less perfect child? One school at last agreed to give her a chance for a trial period of six months. I prayed hard everyday that she’d settle down and learn to cope in a normal setup. But God had different plans. We failed, and she was asked to be removed from school after 10 months. Almost everyday I went hunting for a school which would be right for her and which would accept her. The one and only place, the Shri Ram School, had no seats available at that point of time.

She stayed at home for a year. Everyday, for about three months, she’d weep and plead me to send her to school. Then she realized that she would not be going. I felt helpless and seeing other children in their school uniforms every morning would leave me feeling so guilty! What’d I do? Where’d I go? Who’ll help me? And why me?

At last the day came. We got a call from the school. We rejoiced, threw a party at home the same day, our daughter has been accepted! Now, looking at life from a new angle, in addition to working hard with her we made an effort to enjoy movies, social gatherings, weekend breaks and so on. She took quite some time to settle in school, and others took time to understand her. But in no time she became the darling of all teachers and staff of the learning center of school! Her class teacher recognized her strengths and helped her to bloom into a beautiful flower. She has picked up computer skills very well. Typing, browsing and downloads, presentations, educational and game CDs are her favorite pastime!

I’ve brought her to this world – it was my duty to give her the best. I believe that we should not spoil a single today by sulking, brooding, or thinking about what could have been, even if that gives an impression that we are not worried about her future. We took one step at a time, celebrated every achievement, solved the problem on hand, and then moved on to the next! We looked for every available resource and opened every door – you never know what may work! And we kept on doing what we felt is right for our child – as parents, we know her best! Everyone has some advise or opinion about my child – we listen to everyone but ignore what comes out of ignorance or insensitivity, and we don’t get worked up – we have learnt to accept that she is special. But, all said and done, it does hurt if a driver or a gardener, out of ignorance, calls this different child “mad”. It hurts when children in the park refuse to play with her, it pains to see the child rejected! If someone is thoughtful or kind to your child, thank God and be glad! People who have not gone through what you are going through may not know what to say and when to say – they may not mean to hurt you.

It was natural for some to look at us with pity and for others to be overprotective. Keep an open mind and do not expect much from people around you, but do look for like-minded people and draw strength from groups. Some parents of specially-abled children at Shri Ram school have got together to form a support group, to shape the future of our dearest children, not just by worrying, but by doing our best today!

I realize that the road ahead may have many more and deeper ditches than the ones we have crossed. We need to have the strength to get up and move forward every time we fall.

All said and done, no matter how strong I think I am, every time I look into the eyes of “Maa Durga” asking her to give me strength, I can’t control my tears from rolling down!