Aathma Seva has on its rolls mentally-challenged and autistic students coming in from the neighbourhoods of Velcahery, Madipakkam and Nanganallur. Usha Ramani reports

In the canopy-shaded street of Dr. Seethapathy Nagar stands an institution that is dedicated to special children. Through a raft of courses, Aathma Seva (not to be confused with a similar-sounding unit for differently-abled children that is run by Shree Sarasswathi Vidhyaah Mandheer Institutions) teaches mentally challenged children and those with autism. The special school has students coming from Velachery, Madipakkam and Nanganallur. The prime mover behind this initiative is Chitra Rangarajan, herself a parent of an autistic child. Chitra sees tearing down the misconceptions that have accreted around autism as part of her mission. “Autism should not be used interchangeably with the term mental-retardedness, as there is at least 30% brain development in autistic individuals.

Autism produces symptoms such as delayed milestones, impairment in social interaction and in communication, restricted interests and repetitive behaviour.” The school, started in 1997, has had humble beginnings with just four children attending the early classes. Its strength has now risen to 50 children who suffer from a range of disorders, including cerebral palsy. Some of its students are as old as 55.

Aathma Seva follows a methodology that draws heavily from behaviour modification, sensory stimulation, yoga, speech and music therapy, vocational and computer assisted education. Above all, the school seeks to train its students in basic self-help skills that is expected to make them self-reliant when they are grown up.

Chitra says that parents play a pivotal role in the development of such children and therefore attention is focussed on them as well.

Extension activities

These children are not confined to the four walls of their classrooms and are allowed to go outdoors and explore the world. They are taken out on excursions. The kids have been taken to hill stations such as Ooty and Kodaikanal.

The school functions on a regular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. routine. Aathma Seva school is located at No. 9/39, Usha Street, Dr. Seethapathy Nagar, Velachery, Chennai-42.

For details, contact 044-2243-2004/1133.

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