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And So I Belong…

hand holding up a large megaphone to denote voice

An Avaz Megaphone Feature

What do the experiences of neurodivergent, minimally verbal children look like in inclusive classrooms? How can we support them and enable a sense of belonging? Find some answers to all this and more in this short story. Written with tenderness and filled with astute observations, this short story by Aditi will open your eyes in unexpected ways.

Rishabh’s World

Rishabh was a smart eight year old who was very good at Math. He loved Science too – but the same could not be said about Social Science. He went to the same school as his neighbor Tanmay and a whole bunch of other children in his apartment complex.

School was not always a happy place to go to. You see, Rishabh was very different from all of them at in his apartment & classroom. But not in the way that people are usually different from one another.

Rishabh was autistic. While he had so much within him that he wanted to express, he could speak just about eight words in total. With no way of communicating with his teachers and classmates, school felt like a complete burden.

The only silver lining at school was Math. He enjoyed math because it was easy to understand. Many of his classmates fumbled with math, but he never did. In fact, he loved that there was so little writing in it unlike social science. And writing was the second in his list of oh so difficult things – the first on the list was speaking.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Things had begun to to look up for Rishabh in the past year and a half. This was because he was assigned to a new shadow teacher, Ms. Anita.

Ms. Anita believed in doing things differently!

“Learning looks different for different children,” she had said. “We can’t take away Rishabh’s autism, but we can definitely help him learn better by teaching differently. I think he should be doing his worksheets on the iPad. Writing is an uncomfortable thing for him to do .”

It took a lot of advocating with the school management but Ms. Anita was relentless. Her persistence paid off and they finally agreed. Rishabh was finally able to use an iPad at school for writing!

Stepping Stone

Soon, the results were there for everyone to see! Rishabh was able to achieve the academic prowess that he was capable of. His iPad had also generated a lot of curiosity among his classmates who came to see what he was doing. Many of them went back with the question “Why only him? Why not us?”

To be honest, he did not mind it much. After all, it was probably the first time in all his six years at school that his classmates had paid him any attention!

More Progress

The iPad was just the beginning of a new phase in Rishabh’s life.

Six months ago Ms. Anita suggested AAC to his parents. Alternative and Augmentative Communication using an App on the iPad, she had said, was the way forward. She had even shared the contact of Ms. Vidya, a therapist. Ms. Vidya helped Rishabh download the app. She also began teaching him how he could use to communicate.

Rishabh and his parents started off the sessions with Vidya in earnest. The AAC app was very easy to use. It had a keypad, just like in a laptop or a phone, using which Rishabh could type out what he wanted to say. Thereafter the AAC app would read out what Rishabh typed. In short, the AAC app would be his voice! Rishabh found the app easy to learn and to use. And in six months, he was communicating reasonably well.

Ms. Anita was very delighted with his progress and decided to have him use the AAC app to communicate at school.

A Big Day

It was the first day. The very first time that Rishabh was going to use his AAC app at school. As with every new thing, he had mixed feelings!

“I am really good at using this”, Rishabh said to himself, “with this I can finally talk to my classmates and teachers . I can do this!”

Sure enough, Ms. Anita had informed his teachers about the AAC app and what it does. The teachers were going to keep their ears open for any voice outputs from the app.

children hugging a child to make him feel included

The Plane of Belonging

It was the Science period. Ms. Varsha, the Science teacher, drew a picture on the board . “Can anyone tell me what is this?”, she asked.

Rishabh knew what it was. He was very sure of it. He realized that this the right moment to let the class know that he could ‘speak’. From amidst the intense feelings of anticipation and trepidation, Rishabh typed out his answer on the app. And pressed enter.

INCLINED PLANE,” said the AAC app out loud

“That is correct Rishabh, good job!’, exclaimed Ms. Varsha. She turned to the rest of the class and said, “Children, from today Rishabh will be talking to us by using his iPad.”

All the children turned around to look at Rishabh and his iPad with curiosity.

“Wow! So does this mean you can talk to us using this, just like we all talk to each other?”, asked Aman. “Yes,” replied Rishabh with his app, “I will type out what I want to say and the AAC app will read it out for me.”

Rishabh was feeling ecstatic. After all, he now truly belonged in the class!

WRITTEN BY

Aditi Sowmyanarayan

Student & Writer

Aditi Sowmyanarayan is a sixteen year old who uses Avaz, a text to speech app, to communicate. She goes to Ishanya India Foundation, a special school in Bengaluru. Aditi is an avid blogger and an aspiring writer. She blogs on www.smallstepbigthought.blogspot.com

She can be reached on Instagram at writeaditi and on her Facebook page : small step big thought

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