Children with diverse needs: What a teacher can do

Shaurya Bataria, in Learning Curve, shares her experience of working with a child with a disability for the first time, with observations that could help teachers while working with children with disabilities.

As part of my assignment for a seven-month course in Child Development, Special Needs and Learning,i I undertook the case study of a child named Devraj living in Borkunda village in the Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh. 

The village has a tribal population of about 1000 – 1200 people and most of them are daily-wage earners. Devraj is an 11-year-old boy who has a disability in his right hand. His parents abandoned him when he was very young because of his disability, and he lives with his maternal grandmother. 

Devraj does not have an identity proof (birth certificate or Aadhaar Card) because of which he is deprived of all government benefits and schemes. The government school teacher in the village enrolled him in the school on the basis of a letter from the gram panchayat secretary. He is not regular to school and prefers to spend the whole day roaming around and playing with his friend, Gopi.

One step at a time

I spoke with his grandmother, his teacher and people in the village to try and find out more about his social, mental and emotional behaviour. I learned that he is not very interactive, and, except for his friend Gopi, he does not feel comfortable playing with any other child. He has developed the habit of eating pan masala (and often throws tantrums for the money to buy it).

From his teacher, I got to know that he had attended school for less than a month in the academic year and did not show interest in his studies because he did not feel comfortable inside the class and always wanted to go out. Most of the time, he sat idle in the classroom and did not respond to any of the questions asked in class. During the discussion with the community, I observed that people around him pitied him and blamed his fate. Other children bullied and mocked him, calling him different names.

I then went to visit him at his home. Looking for his home, I asked in the neighbourhood and his neighbours pointed from a distance to a boy lying on a cot. When I called out to him, this boy walked up to me with a shy smile. I noticed that he seemed to have a disability in his leg as well.

As he walked towards me, all kinds of questions came to my mind. Would he open up to me? Would I be able to help him as it was my first time working directly with a child with a disability? Would he be comfortable talking about the challenges faced by his family? Would the family feel that I was there only to complete my assignment? What if my questions hurt him? 

I was conscious of how I must approach this matter with sensitivity. Very gently, I asked him his name twice. His neighbour whispered, Raja’; he smiled at the neighbour and looked at me with bright, shining eyes filled with innocence. I reframed my question and asked, Is your name Raja?’

Devraj,’ he said, loud and clear, with confidence. His strong voice made me feel that he was angry with how people spoke about him.

After a few visits, I realised that the people around him made him feel that he was different from them and that he would never have a normal life; that after his grandmother, there would be no one to look after him – a fact that scared him. From my conversations with him, I learned that he himself did not want to be treated as special’ or as someone who needed help even with his daily chores. 

He did not want anyone to feel sorry for him or blame his fate’. He wanted to live his life to the fullest and to be treated equally as all other children. Devraj did not want anyone’s assistance; he just wanted to be accepted. Understanding this was not enough to help him, but I got a direction to move forward.

During my visits, I tried to enter the space in which he was most comfortable. We discussed each other’s likes and dislikes and enjoyed different games and activities. When we played ball, sometimes I could not catch it even with both my hands and there he was catching the ball every time with his single hand. 

Slowly, we started spending more time together and he began drawing, which he loves. In everything he did, I never felt that the inability to use one arm fully was an obstacle for him. I helped him recognise and appreciate his strengths.

We began bonding well and felt relaxed and motivated by each other’s presence. Whenever I went to his village, he would come and hold my hand and take me straight to his house and show me his drawings.

Gradually, his zeal to do more in life made me take him to the Mohalla Learning Activity Centre (MohLAC) so he could make new friends. This is a safe place managed by the youth of the community created by the Eklavya foundation for primary school students for the duration of COVID-19 for their continued engagement with meaningful learning.

Some observations

A particular incident needs mention here. At the centre one day, I had asked the children to stand in a circle. When the students were busy doing this, I observed a girl standing next to Devraj, trying to adjust her hand to hold his so that he would feel comfortable. 

I felt that with this naturally friendly action, she was giving a beautiful lesson that society needs to adjust its attitudes and treat persons with disabilities in the same way as they treat everyone else. Everyone has different abilities; some can dance beautifully, and some can sing melodiously. Then why are some labelled differently-abled’? This is a question that needs to be reviewed.

Figure 1. Author with Devraj as he learns to count using pebbles

On another occasion, we sat in a group and performed some group activities which required physical movements. Devraj was a little slow, but this did not seem to bother anyone; they were all enjoying themselves.

Devraj came regularly to the centre and made new friends. He used to introduce me as his didi (elder sister) and soon enough, everyone around him was calling me Devraj ki didi’ (Devraj’s elder sister).

I am happy that now others do not feel or make him feel that he will be on his own in the absence of his grandmother. Currently, Devraj continues to visit the centre and his school with his new friends. I visit him once a week and try to be there for him as much as possible.

  • LC Issue 14 Figure 2 Helping Devraj write at the Mohalla Learning Activity Centre

    Figure 2. Helping Devraj write at the Mohalla Learning Activity Centre

  • LC Issue 14 Figure 3 Devraj drawing

    Figure 3. Devraj drawing

As I mentioned before, children with disabilities do not need help as much as they need someone who empathises with them and accepts their difficulties’ in a positive light. Encouragement, love and care from someone who believes in them and shows them their strengths can do wonders for their self-belief, self-image and, indeed, the way they live their lives – with joy and positivity.

Seven different colours make a rainbow beautiful. Why is it that we want all children to be the same and be able to do the same things? There is beauty in differences, in diversity. Let us open ourselves to individual differences and accept each one as they are.

*Names have been changed to protect children’s identities.


i. Eklavya runs a seven-month certificate course in Child Development, Special Needs and Learning – designed and conducted by the senior faculty of Eklavya and Institute of Home Economics, University of Delhi. It focuses on understanding children and childhood, specifically from disadvantaged backgrounds in the Indian context.

About the Author

Shaurya Bataria works with the Eklavya foundation as Project Assistant under the HITEC project in the Seoni-Malwa block of the Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh. She has completed her graduation from Delhi University and Diploma in Elementary Education from Maharishi Dayanand University, Rohtak. Shaurya loves working with primary school students, creating inclusive environments and giving them innovative learning experiences.

She may be reached at shaurya.​delhi2011@​gmail.​com

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