Fully geared up, complete with a helmet, four children play cricket with a tennis ball in a sylvan setting at Y. Pudupatti as the sun gets ready to bid goodbye. The batsman imitates Sachin Tendulkar and the bowler asks the onlookers to watch out. These children from different backgrounds are not ordinary but very special. They suffer from mental and physical disabilities that do not show up because of the continuous therapy they undergo at Shine Special School.
The school is a dream in concrete of three mothers – S. Visalakshi, S. Uma Maheshwari and N. Mythily – of special children. With no formal education in handling special children, Ms. Visalakshi brought up her son affected by cerebral palsy, guided only by instinct. Today, her son S. Gowtham, who has completed B.Com. and MBA, has remnants of disability only in his gait. He is fully on his own and takes care of the family’s business.
The single attribute that mainstreamed this special child was his mother’s patience. “Parents of special children should have a lot of patience. In the early days, he could not stand up even for three seconds. I started with a count of three to make him stand and reached 10,000 counts over a period of several years. It took some years and a lot of patience to make him brush his teeth,” she says.
Speaking of patience, the mother recalls how she had to carry her son to class for a full semester in The American College with both his legs in plaster after a corrective surgery. “I used to wait near the classroom to take him to the toilet during breaks and carry him back home.”
The transformation was made possible with intervention by doctors who insisted that he should study in a normal school; the Senior Principal of his school, Premalatha Panneerselvam, and 10 corrective surgeries. “I should also thank Rajinikanth, in a way,” says Ms. Visalakshi. It was on an evening after her son’s return from school did she realise that it would be possible to make him walk. “When I was pulling his trousers down my son saw a Rajinikanth song on television. Excited, he started to walk towards the television set without any assistance.”
“I learn each day about how to improve my life through interaction with normal people. My friends in school never treated me as a different person. This gave me confidence and added to my strength,” says Mr. Gowtham, who wishes to stand on his own legs by getting into FMCG business. He also dreams of having an education and rehabilitation facility under one roof for special children.
The three mothers got together in 2003 to start a special school in K.K. Nagar with three children, one special educator and an assistant. It attracted 115 children over the years. When the space became cramped it was decided to shift the school to Y. Pudupatti in 2017. The K.K. Nagar facility has also been retained with 18 children.
The 1.55-acre complex at Y. Pudupatti has facilities for all kinds of therapies, a playground, gymnasium and fresh air and water. Children also learn ‘silambam.’ But the distance from the city has discouraged many parents from sending their children to school, though two vans are used to ferry them from and to home. “We do not want to make money from the school. So there are no fixed fees. But no service is free. We collect fees after determining the economic status of the child’s parents. No fee is collected from very poor parents,” says Ms. Visalakshi.
Headmistress P. Dhanasundari feels that more efforts are needed to create awareness of early intervention among parents so that rehabilitation becomes easy at a much later stage. The future plans of the school include an early intervention centre in the city, a swimming pool to offer hydrotherapy, an exclusive section for slow learners and a B.Ed. college for special educators.