‘Speaking is just one mode of communication, not the only mode”

The heart-rending news about a Tirunelveli tailor, K. Periyar Ramasamy, killing his four-year-old son with hearing and speech disorder by drowning him in a water channel and later committing suicide on Thursday calls for a closer look into the mental agony the parents of such children undergo and the issues that revolve around their upbringing.

S.Solaiammal of Narasingam near Othakadai could hardly control her emotions when it comes to discussing the travails of bringing up her daughter studying Class II. The distress faced by her is so severe that she underwent a family planning operation a few years ago, not because she is a proponent of ‘one family, one child’ concept, but because she was scared that her next child might also suffer from a similar disorder. And her fears are not without reason as there are families with more than one child suffering from hearing disorder.

A.Manickavalli, wife of an electrician at Tirupparankundram, is a mother of a boy and a girl, studying in kindergarten, who cannot hear or talk. Like Solaiammal, she was also married to her maternal uncle. Every doctor they visited to get their children treated cited the marriage between close relatives as the reason for having begotten children with the disorders. “We took our children to Government Rajaji Hospital, a doctor at Anna Nagar and later to a clinic at Arapalayam, but to no avail. One of the doctors said they could be treated if we are ready to spend Rs.5 lakh. Being a casual labourer, I cannot afford that much money,” she says.

Not only uneducated women fall victim to such hardships. S.Nalini, a postgraduate in mathematics, who married her cousin, an agriculturalist, gave birth to a daughter with hearing and speech disorder. “I could not say ‘no’ when my family forced me to marry my maternal aunt’s son. I belong to a caste in which marrying among relatives is the norm. I protested and cautioned my family about the risk of begetting children with physical and mental disorders. But my parents and relatives convinced me by citing the example of a few other women who had begotten normal children despite marrying close relatives,” she says.

J.Shamila Doris, a Master’s degree holder in Rehabilitation Science and a specialist in dealing with children facing difficulties in hearing and speaking, says, “Fifty per cent of children with disorders are born to women who marry close relatives. This is one area where the government should create awareness through a sustained campaign against such a practice.”

“The moment parents get to know that their child is suffering from a disorder, they switch into denial mode. The man begins blaming the wife and vice-versa. Compounding the problem is the pressure from in-laws, other relatives and neighbours who end up hurting the couple mentally. In such circumstances, it is the doctors who should come to the rescue of such parents and give them the hope of getting along with the children. Parents of physically challenged children always go by the word of doctors. Therefore, it is very important for doctors to be sensitive to their requirements.” Ramola Das, Headmistress of YMCA Kamak Higher Secondary School for the Deaf at Visalakshipuram here, says children with hearing and speech difficulties could be groomed well and integrated into the mainstream through sustained training from childhood. It is absolutely unwarranted on the part of parents such as Ramasamy to resort to extreme steps such as murder and suicide.

Stating that her school admits children from the kindergarten level, she points out that it had been achieving 100 per cent results in Class X examinations for the past five years.

“He is one of the best examples of how one can come up in life despite not being able to speak or hear from childhood,” she says pointing to the school’s computer instructor M.Sundaram, a native of Melur. He joined the school after completing his Master’s Diploma in Computer Applications, Post Graduate Diploma in Information Technology and Bachelor’s of Preparatory Programme in Deaf Study. School correspondent Rev. S.Suyambu feels the State Government could do much more than what it is doing now for the rehabilitation of such children and for providing hope to their parents.

“We also need an attitudinal change in society. Neighbours and relatives of children with hearing disorder must be sensitive to the kids and their parents and never slight them. If we as a society do not stand by them, who else will? People must understand that speaking is just one mode of communication, not the only mode,” he concludes.

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