by Dr. Deepak Sekar
At Asha Silicon Valley, we support a number of projects helping special needs children. We were recently fortunate to have Dr. Vasudha Prakash, an expert in the space, give a talk at our chapter. Dr. Vasudha is Founder and Director of V-Excel Educational Trust, a non-profit in India which supports ~5000 special needs children in 13 centers across Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. V-Excel actively partners with government agencies, educational institutions, companies and non-profits for its mission. Dr. Vasudha holds a doctorate in special needs education from Rutgers University. She has received numerous awards for her social entrepreneurship, including from the Hindu newspaper, the UAE Government, Raj TV and ICICI.
The three main ways to help special needs children, according to Dr. Vasudha
If parents have any doubts on their child’s development, it is crucial to go seek professional guidance as early as possible, according to Dr. Vasudha. If nothing shows up on a professional diagnosis, that’s good, but if there is any development help needed, it gives huge advantages by knowing early. When kids are young, the neuroplasticity of the brain is very high. The brain is capable of evolving if trained well. As much as 50% of special needs children can be included in regular schools if they are helped early on in life, she said.
Organizations which work with special needs need support in every way, with administrative matters, with education, with teaching, with medical help. The task is herculean and is often expensive, says Dr. Vasudha.
Integrating special needs children into mainstream society needs us to open our hearts and doors to them, says Dr. Vasudha. She gave an example of how when a special needs child is put in a regular school, everyone in the school – the principal, school teachers, other kids, even the bus driver – needs to be aligned with the inclusion and needs to treat the child with respect, dignity and kindness.
The impact of helping special needs children
When special needs children are taken care of, they can often live normal lives where they support themselves, says Dr. Vasudha. Learning skills like making tea, samosas, chapattis and manufacturing are things special needs people often do well. Lots of V-Excel’s old students are now in various service jobs. But there are career paths beyond just service jobs. Dr. Vasudha talked about one of her old students who had Autism and Asperger’s syndrome, who took up a job at an IT company and did quite well. Another student who had disabilities all his life is now a receptionist at one of Chennai’s leading luxury hotels, answering calls and helping customers.
It was inspiring for us at Asha to hear from someone who had dedicated their life to helping special needs children. In 2020, in a world where chaos, disease, falsehoods and social distancing are prevalent, the talk reminded us that helping others in need like this really is man’s highest calling and needs our most attention.