Tak­ing the leap

As Balavidyalaya School for Young Deaf Chil­dren cel­e­brates its 50th year in the city, a proud alumna takes a trip down mem­ory lane

The Hindu - - CHENNAI - :: Reshma Iqbal

Around the age of 18 months, an oto­toxic an­tibi­otic pre­scribed by a doc­tor in Pune dur­ing a rou­tine fever, robbed me off the abil­ity to hear. With­out hear­ing, I was not ex­pected to learn to talk, like nor­mal chil­dren do. Two decades later, I am a jour­nal­ist who in­ter­views peo­ple on a daily ba­sis.

When I was di­ag­nosed with a hear­ing loss of 85 to 90%, my par­ents’ world turned up­side down. How­ever, they were shown a glim­mer of hope when they heard about Balavidyalaya School for Young Deaf Chil­dren, a spe­cial school in Chen­nai that fo­cused on teach­ing hear­ing im­paired chil­dren to 'hear' and 'talk'. On learn­ing more about the school, they dis­cov­ered that Balavidyalaya (ear­lier known as Lit­tle Wood­ford) was headed by two far-sighted in­di­vid­u­als, Me­naka Parthasarathy and Saraswathi Narayanaswamy, back in late six­ties when sign lan­guage was the norm. But these two ladies had a vi­sion that a deaf child, with in­ten­sive speech ther­apy, hard work and pa­tience, could ac­tu­ally be taught how to 'hear' and

'talk' and one day.

Balavidyalaya, which im­parts free ed­u­ca­tion, con­sid­ers par­ents as equal part­ners in the pro­gramme and lays pro­found em­pha­sis on the par­ents’ train­ing abil­i­ties at home as well. The teach­ers si­mul­ta­ne­ously train at least one par­ent along with the child, and ex­pect the child's progress to fol­low charted ter­ri­tory. A par­ent was quoted as say­ing that she had not cared for the anger of her bosses (at her job) but has cried in front of the teach­ers.

Af­ter a few years in the school, the ward is ‘main­streamed’ ( is made to join a 'nor­mal' school with other chil­dren). The suc­cess­ful re­sults of the in­ten­sive train­ing and speech ther­apy were soon spread by word of mouth, lead­ing to even stu­dents com­ing from out­side Tamil Nadu to at­tend the school.

Those par­ents who were not based out of Chen­nai gave up lu­cra­tive jobs to re­lo­cate to the city hav­ing to find al­ter­nate jobs and ac­com­mo­da­tion afresh. Many non-English speak­ing par­ents had to learn English to teach their child at home, as the school fol­lowed an English medium cur­ricu­lum.

A gen­tle­man in the hear­ing aid in­dus­try, who has been as­so­ci­ated with Balavidyalaya since its in­cep­tion, tells me, “Had it not been for the mil­i­tary-like rules that teach­ers had in­sisted on for par­ents, the stu­dents would not be shin­ing in the world to­day.”

Cut the noise

When hear­ing-im­paired chil­dren start us­ing hear­ing aids for the first time, all they hear is noise. The teach­ers then, teach them how to as­so­ciate each ac­tion with the re­sul­tant noise. When they learn this as­so­ci­a­tion, what was ear­lier per­ceived to be just noise, is in­ter­preted as a mean­ing­ful sound or word. This is part of DHVANI (De­vel­op­ment of Hear­ing, Voice and Nat­u­ral In­te­gra­tion), an in­ten­sive lan­guage pro­gramme, which Bala Vidyalaya has de­vel­oped.

In this form of ed­u­ca­tion, in­di­vid­ual at­ten­tion is given to chil­dren which al­low them to reach their full po­ten­tial in­tel­lec­tu­ally, so­cially and emo­tion­ally, at their own pace. Reg­u­lar ob­ser­va­tion along with con­tin­u­ous as­sess­ment us­ing the DHVANI as­sess­ment cards and keys, pro­vide a de­tailed pic­ture of each stu­dent’s progress. DHVANI train­ers are also awarded a Diploma for Teach­ing Young Hear­ing Im­paired (DTYHI) rec­og­nized by the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Coun­cil of In­dia, New Delhi, and the Govern­ment of Tamil Nadu.

The stu­dents are taught to lis­ten, talk, read and write, through ac­tiv­ity-based learn­ing. No for­mal text books are fol­lowed. And, the learn­ing does not cease af­ter school hours . Par­ents are ex­pected to con­tinue with the lessons. It is also es­sen­tial that some­one ac­com­pa­nies the child all the time so that he/she does not lose the prac­tice of lis­ten­ing to, and talk­ing. ‘Main­stream­ing’ the child af­ter a few years en­sures that the child has the chance to im­prove his or her speech clar­ity by in­ter­act­ing with other chil­dren. Dur­ing the early years, lip read­ing is also vi­tal in un­der­stand­ing speech.

To­day, Balavidyalaya, the non-res­i­den­tial, pri­vate and non-profit early in­ter­ven­tion cen­tre for in­fants and chil­dren with hear­ing im­pair­ment till five years, runs sis­ter schools all over In­dia and has a teach­ers’ train­ing in­sti­tute as well. The school houses a state-of-theart di­ag­nos­tic cen­tre and pro­vides stu­dents with the re­quired hear­ing aids. The alumni in­clude PhD can­di­dates, soft­ware engi­neers, bank em­ploy­ees and sportsper­sons. Twenty-three years af­ter my hear­ing im­pair­ment di­ag­no­sis, I landed my first job af­ter com­plet­ing my Mas­ter's de­gree. And, by be­com­ing a jour­nal­ist with a lead­ing news­pa­per, I met peo­ple from all walks of life. Ironic, in­deed.

Balavidyalaya will cel­e­brate its 50th an­niver­sary in De­cem­ber 2019. For the year­long cel­e­bra­tion, the school will or­gan­ise a series of monthly events to in­crease aware­ness.

■ SPE­CIAL AR­RANGE­MENT

Sign of love The stu­dents are taught to lis­ten, talk, read and write through ac­tiv­i­ties

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