Special books for the special soul

Lakshmi Sathish during a session with a child.   | Photo Credit: B Jothi Ramalingam

Surekha Ramachandran remembers reading books to her daughter from the time she was “in a semi-comatose state in the hospital”. “Babli was 21 months old then. She got pneumonia and couldn’t see. Everyone declared she was going to die,” says the mother. Surekha laid her daughter on her lap, and read to her. She knew Babli, her little one with Down Syndrome, was listening.

“She defied what medical professionals told me,” recalls Surekha, who is the President of the Down Syndrome Federation of India. Today, stories form a major part of Babli’s life. However, Surekha wishes that there were more books that featured protagonists with special needs. “They will create such an impact,” she feels.

Say what you need to say

Special books for the special soul

Lakshmi Satish, a special educator and co-founder of Chennai-based Mirra, a remedial centre for children with learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), says that her children make their own books that tell stories from their lives. All it takes is a set of photos from, say, a trip to the beach, some chart paper, and a pen. “We stick the pictures to create a booklet, and write simple words next to each, describing what it is about,” she says.

These books that she reads with the children, introduce commonly-used words, and with repeated reading, children become familiar with the terms. “Children begin to understand the complexity of language,” she says. Once this happens, Lakshmi says she moves on to titles from other children’s publishers.

Pratham’s Colours on the Street is among their favourites. “I tell parents that they should place two books by their children’s bedside. One, a regular storybook and the other, a book that they made themselves. It’s good to keep changing these titles up once in a while.”

Words make life meaningful for everyone, she feels. But more so for children who struggle to express themselves. “Words unravel a whole new world for them,” says Lakshmi.

Special books for the special soul

Sowmya recommends
  • Ruby’s Worry (Bloomsbury): Deals with externalising anxiety, helping children understand that by talking about anxiety, it can go away
  • Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies (Fairview Press): Helps kids express feelings as pictures
  • When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death (Little, Brown): Helps children understand death
  • Please Tell: A Child’s Story About Sexual Abuse (Hazelden Publishing) Takes children who have experienced trauma, to a space they may be able to talk
  • Simply Nanju (Duckbill): Gets kids to relate to the story of a boy with below-average intelligence and his experiences at a school for the differently-abled

Dr Sowmya Bhaskaran TS, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Coimbatore-based Insight Clinic, says that children with developmental disorders, such as intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, learning disorders, and mental-health problems due to anxiety, depression and trauma/loss/abuse, can “benefit from books being read to them”. For some, especially those with autism, stories about their problems reassure them that there are others like them.

Do what you need to do

“Young children, especially those less than eight years, find it difficult to verbalise their feelings,” says Dr Bhaskaran. “I find books related to anxiety quite helpful.” These are for everyone. “When typical children, siblings of atypical children, and parents read to them, it helps get a perspective of how they think, the difficulties they face, and most importantly, to look at the abilities that they posses rather than looking at them only through the disability lens,” she adds.

Dr Bhaskaran calls these books “small but significant steps in creating an inclusive environment. With children being among the vulnerable sections of society, having minimal rights and few adults willing to give their opinions a patient ear, any attempt to look at things from the child’s perspective is a welcome change,” she says. By introducing these titles, it wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that parents and caregivers are actually changing the world, one page at a time.

(This is the third in a series of children’s books that deal with complex issues)

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2020 4:44:51 AM |

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