There is a six-year-old boy living in Prem Nagar in the Andamans who is frequently overtaken by spells of rage. Aryan Biswas cannot understand what people are saying or make himself understood. He has every right to be frustrated, don’t you think?
We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when his mother Mafia Khatun (30), responding to our question about her son’s likes and dislikes, innocently replied: “He enjoys breaking things. And he likes to beat people!” Mafia, whose husband died four years ago, works as a domestic help in two houses, earning under ₹8,000 a month. “I want to raise him well. I need to give him whatever he asks for,” she says.
Mafia migrated with her family to the Andaman and Nicobar islands from Calcutta when she was barely 12. She dropped out of school after eighth standard. After marriage, and when Aryan was just two, her husband died. She had to raise him on her own, although her mother and brother live close by.
Teachers at the local anganwadi (government-run rural childcare centre) wondered why Aryan wouldn’t react when they called out to him. Mafia took him to hospital for a hearing test; it showed that Aryan’s left ear has complete hearing loss and he has 80% hearing impairment in the right ear. Doctors fitted him with a hearing aid for which Mafia dug into her meagre savings to shell out nearly ₹6,000. She then admitted him to a mainstream school – the Government Demonstration Multipurpose School (GDMS) in Middle Point, Port Blair.
Problem solved? That’s what the average person would think, until they realise what the process of fitting and maintaining a hearing aid involves. The audiologist has to balance the amplification right, and ensure that the aid fits comfortably. The user has to learn how to clean and maintain it, how to change the batteries, and how to program it to different amplification levels. From wearing it for a few hours a day in quiet environments, they have to move towards wearing it for longer in noisy or crowded spaces.
It is doubtful whether all the necessary steps were followed by Mafia, let alone little Aryan. He started responding to his teachers in school, and later, when he found he couldn’t hear them well, he slammed his aid on to the floor. This happened twice, says Mafia. It was ruined beyond repair. Mafia says she applied for a UDID (disability card) for Aryan around four months ago and intends to get him a government-issue hearing aid.
Meanwhile, relief came in the form of special needs educator M. Bhavani (30). Bhavani was told by her 12th standard teacher, “You are so good with children you should try getting into education. There are not many people in this field in the Andamans.” Accordingly, she completed a Diploma in Education and is currently on contract with the Education Department as part of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme.
Along with another teacher, Bhavani conducts evening classes at a newly launched resource centre in Jungli Ghat, Port Blair. They teach 25 children with disabilities, aged 4-15 years. In sessions that last 2.5 hours they use methods such as individual teaching, group teaching, and peer teaching. They focus on development of skills – writing, reading, receptive, expressive, behaviour-modification, ADL (activities of daily living), dance and yoga.
Bhavani teaches Sign Language to the Deaf and hearing impaired as well as average children. Aryan’s attendance has been irregular since Mafia cannot always find time amid work to take him to the centre. “When spoken to with love, he responds well,” says Bhavani. “Because he doesn’t understand what’s happening around him, he gets angry. If he has a hearing aid I can give him speech therapy. With support, he will be able to quickly pick up, because he is very young.”
Mafia is happy when “Bhavani Ma’am takes them to the stadium to play every Saturday”. She says that Aryan likes to play and jump about and to play on the swing in the park. A cochlear implant for him is beyond her means. One hopes that a hearing aid comes his way, and more importantly, that he is assisted to keep it in good shape. Only then can he get the benefit of a regular school education.