Teaching little steps to make them lead normal life

Teaching little steps to make them lead normal life

Twelve-year-old Ashish Yadav giggles as he shakes hands while being congratulated on successfully reading the English alphabet before eating lunch as his “mother” Madhuri Dwivedi watches.

With an intelligence quotient (IQ) between 70 and 89, Ashish is a “dull normal” or a “slow learner” though not “mentally retarded”. He is one of the 60 boys and girls receiving education at “Asmita”, a centre for the slow learners in the state capital.

For Ashish and others at the centre, Madhuri and her psychologist husband Dr Krishna Dutt are their real parents, though not biological. The duo has been running the Asmita Slow Learners Centre for the past 20 years. The house doubles up as the centre as the couple live in a small portion of the building. “The slow learners are not mentally retarded as is the popular perception. Such children find themselves in a very piquant situation. They cannot be kept with mentally retarded children nor can they study with normal children,” said Dr Dutt, a professional clinical psychologist with the prestigious King George’s Medical University.

“They will develop inferiority complex if they are sent to school to study with normal children while they will regress if kept with the mentally retarded ones,” he pointed out. Dutt’s wife Madhuri, who looks after the centre, said that these children could become normal if they are given proper training by specially trained counsellors. “Many of our students have been living normal lives,” she said.

Dutt said that the most important task is to first identify the slow learners. “We identify them, conduct psychological evaluation and intellectual assessment before arriving at a decision and admitting them at the centre,” he said.

“Every child has separate requirements. They are given training keeping in view their specific needs. We prepare behaviour modification programme and activity of daily living,” Dutt added. “Slow learners have poor comprehension. They work at a slow pace and also have speech problem. They are either dull or over active and have neurotic traits and tendencies such as bed wetting, nail biting or thumb sucking,” Dutt pointed out.

The children are trained in music, painting and take active part in sporting activities. “Only recently some of our children took part in the national football coaching camp at Hyderabad,” he added. The centre has so far trained hundreds of slow learners. A majority of the staff at the centre is voluntary and render its services free of charge.
“Neither we get anything from the government nor we  want any aid from it.

It is something that we do on our own with the help of a few philanthropists,” the couple said. “A teacher used to donate Rs 100 from his monthly pension to the organisation. He did so for over a decade and never wanted to make his name public,” Dutt said.
A public sector bank provided the centre a few vehicles for transporting the children to and from their homes. Dutt, who has been honoured with many an awards by the Uttar Pradesh government and other organisations for his work among the slow learners, said that he had been inspired by his father. “My father used to say that a life, which is not used for the benefit of mankind, is useless,” he said. 

In fact, the idea of opening a centre for the slow learners came only after the parents of a few such children made such a suggestion. “The parents of the slow learners used to tell me that there was no centre for such children. They couldn’t have sent their children to the centres designed for the mentally retarded ones,” he said.

Dutt said that his wife, who is only a 12th class pass out, is the driving force behind the entire concept of Asmita. “It is she, who takes care of the children. Without her help I couldn’t have dreamt of running the show,” he added. For Madhuri, the children are her family. “I spend all my time with these children. They have given me so many things... real happiness and a sense of satisfaction that I have been able to return something to society,” she said.

Madhuri has, however, a complaint against the parents of the children, who are slow learners. “Many times, the parents are ashamed of sending their children, who actually fall into the category of slow learners or dull normal, to specially designed centres such as
Asmita. They get them admitted to the normal schools. It is not good for the children,” Madhuri said.

“The parents must realise that such children could live a normal life with proper guidance and training. They need our love and affection, not our sympathy,” she said. Dutt added that around five per cent of the children could be slow learners.

“We expect the parents to send their children, if they are slow learners, to us. Though we do not have space to accommodate more children, we like such children to go to the specialised centres,” the couple said.

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