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Devika (female, 6 years)

A little girl's inspiring journey of growth and learning amid intellectual disability

This is the story of a girl raised by her grandmother. Born to a distant relative with mental illness, Devika was adopted by her son and daughter-in-law who had been trying to have a child for years, but in vain. Thus, at just one month old, the grandmother lovingly welcomed the newborn into her home, recognizing that her birth mother couldn't provide the care she needed. As she grew, she cried frequently, but unlike other children, she did not speak, nor did she seem to respond to her cues. Her mother, unable to cope with the early challenges, began to neglect her, leaving her grandmother and father as her primary caregivers.

At the age of five, Devika was enrolled in LKG (Lower Kindergarten) at Samaaveshi’s Kindergarten project. Initially, she would often cry and refuse to sit in the class without her grandmother by her side. If she wasn't provided with something to play with, she would cry persistently. However, the compassionate early educator engaged with her, supported her to settle in the new classroom environment and gradually helped in transforming her behavior.

Upon a detailed assessment (in March 2023) at UMMEED, a Mumbai-based nonprofit for children with developmental disabilities, it was concluded that Devika has ‘global developmental delay’ (a condition in which a child has delayed cognitive and physical development milestones as compared to their physical age).

The following year, Devika was promoted to UKG (Upper Kindergarten), and that's when I had the opportunity of meeting her as her new class teacher. She often displayed a somewhat melancholic mood at home, but upon arriving in class, she radiated happiness and eagerness to interact with her peers. She exhibited a strong desire for independence and would often say, "me, me," whenever someone tried to assist her.

While she initially struggled to focus during lessons, personalized attention helped her improve her concentration. She had certain habits, such as putting fingers in her mouth and difficulty with dressing; but with consistent guidance and communication, she showed significant progress. Devika had a natural inclination to assist her friends and engaged with everyone. Although her speech was unclear, often untimely and broken, daily conversations helped improve her communication skills. Her parents were consulted and encouraged to engage in continuous conversation with her, which contributed to her noticeable transformation.

Now, Devika initiates conversations, gives answers, shares details about her home, expresses her feelings, reads words, follows classroom rules, and actively participates in activities that benefit her peers. To give a glimpse of Devika's interests: she is passionate about craft activities, although she takes her time when it comes to writing. She occasionally exclaims, "I don't get it," but with patience and dialogue, she successfully completes her tasks. Challenges persist as she sometimes struggles with studying at home, but efforts are underway to address this issue.

Her parents, particularly her grandmother, are happy to see the positive changes in Devika's behavior and learning. Her willingness to assist with household tasks, and her progress in reading and writing have brought joy to her family. They have always hoped that Devika would have the opportunity to read and write like her peers, and her journey of growth and learning is a testament to the power of nurturing care and an inclusive learning environment.

©Samaaveshi Pathshaala, 2024