When Rupali Nayak, a mother from Mumbai approached a regular school near her house to get her daughter admitted, they refused to take her child because she was born with cerebral palsy. Rupali, however, did not give up. And now, her daughter Mamta Nayak has made the mother proud by scoring 90.4 per cent in her class 10 examination.
Mamta cannot write so she gave her board exams orally and had a scribe to write for her. “I feel good,” she told Express Parenting when asked about her exam score. Her favourite subject is history, she tells us, and wants to become a teacher when she grows up.
Mamta owes her willpower and determination to her mother, who has supported her throughout the journey. From waiting outside her classroom to taking lessons from her school teachers and then helping her with studies, Rupali’s journey as a mother is an inspiration for many parents. Here are excerpts from a conversation with her:
What made you decide to admit your daughter to a regular school?
Mamta’s physical milestones were delayed but not her cognitive milestones. Her social smile was at two-and-half months and would recognise objects. By one-and-half years of age, she knew all the shapes. By two, she knew all the colours. By three, she knew two-letter and three-letter words. So, she was at par. And when we would take Mamta for physiotherapy–which we began when was 14 days old only–she started looking at other children with school bags when she was two-and-half years old and wanted to go to school. No doubt, even I wanted to ensure my daughter gets the best education. It was because of her willpower and determination only that I felt we could perhaps try getting her admitted to a normal school. But I realised it was not as easy.
So, were schools willing to take Mamta?
Around four to five schools were not even willing to meet Mamta. I told them she was cognitively good and toilet-trained. The fact is if you do not have good cognitively skills, it becomes difficult to pursue studies in a regular school. But the schools either told me that the seats were full or that they would put her in a lower class. But Mamta had completed her senior KG and I wanted to get her admitted in the class 1. I knew my child would be able to cope with school hours and studies like any another. Yes, she requires help and for that I am always there. Then I went to Rajhans Vidyalaya and the principal agreed to take her. That’s how it began.
How did Mamta manage her studies?
It was not easy because in class 1, children are suddenly bombarded with a lot of syllabus. But Mamta gradually learned to cope with it. The teachers were also very supportive. They had a very important role to play. Sometimes, when I could not be at school, her friends would take care of her.
Did children in the school ever treat her differently?
That has never happened with Mamta. She has grown up with other children, who have been very sensitive. They also realised that she is a part of them. Some other child may look at her and see her as different, but her classmates grew up with her. So that way, they also became aware. I never felt that she was being discriminated against in any way.
You have personally been taking Mamta to school.
Yes, I would drop her to the classroom and would stick around in case I had to take her around the school, like to the library or computer lab. In the practical lab, teachers would allow me to come inside and help her out. She does not take tuition; I have taught her on my own from the beginning. If I had any doubts, I always approached her school teachers. They would also meet me after school hours. They would teach me a particular topic and I would teach my daughter.
Apart from academics, what kind of things does your daughter take interest in?
I don’t allow Mamta to use social media, although she is on WhatsApp. She likes to read books, especially Enid Blyton. She also listens to a lot of music. My daughter is a very happy-go-lucky child.
What does Mamta want to study after this?
She will most likely choose Humanities, which will be easier for her. She also likes history and geography a lot.
Have your family members been supportive enough?
My parents have always supported me. Mamta’s father has always been abroad. So, I have brought her up single-handedly with the support of other family members, of course. You definitely require a support system or it becomes difficult to manage everything.
People tend to make assumptions about differently-abled children. What would you like to tell them?
There are actually different kinds of cerebral palsy. People need to understand that these children are not different. We need to raise more awareness and make people understand that special needs children can also be at par and can achieve things in life and they deserve a chance. We also need to make public places and transport more disabled-friendly.
Your message for other parents who have special needs children.
All I would say is, never give up. It will never be an easy journey and a lot of challenges will come your way and you may feel like giving up. Many times, you may be in tears but you have to support your child regardless. Because if you do not fight for your child, who will? As parents, we need to push ourselves; be patient and determined and instill the same values in your child as well. My daughter now is at an age where she feels frustrated sometimes for not being able to do things on her own. Parents have to accept the reality but never stop trying. And that’s where your child will draw strength from. Today, Mamta tries to do things on her own. At the same time, get all the support you can. Without that support, Mamta would never have reached at this position in her life.