Do you know the population of India? It is 1.27 billion! Do you know the area? It is slightly more than one third of US. More than 800 languages are spoken and it is world’s largest democracy. India has never invaded any other country and has the largest English speaking population than anywhere in the world.
Now you must be thinking what all of this has to do with a special needs child? The answer is it kind of does. While being considered a third world country and the facilities, the awareness and the inclusion still being relatively far behind, the truth is that more often than not bringing up children with special needs is much easier than a lot of our western and European counterparts. Here is how
We are a nation of chaos and no matter how much I hate it at times, but it has taught all of us some very useful lessons of life. The uncertainty, the unpredictability and the complexity are a way of life for us in India. For example, we don’t know how much time is needed to go from one place to another. It is never fixed. It can vary based on surprise religious meetings, VIP routes, an accident or a demonstration! And this is just one example.
The chaos here has helped us accept uncertainties and unpredictability as an integral way of life. This theory of chaos makes us look at imperfections in a new light and that is a great learning if you have a child with special needs. We parents know how difficult it is to ‘Not Know’ and ‘Not Have A Control On Things’. India and its ambiguity and contradictions teach you the same, to adapt and change according to the situation because a lot of times you don’t have a control over the other.
2. Joint family system:
When my daughter was going through an open heart surgery and was in the hospital for almost 40 days and my son was not allowed to be with us, I still remember my mother in law, mother and sisters taking turns to look after him.
Till this date, the two of us never have to think much before committing to something or going alone for a movie or dinner because we know there are more than happy granny and grandpa from both sides to look after the kids in our absence. In India, Joint family system is still strong and is considered to be very conducive for the all round development of a child ‘typical’ or ‘special needs’. The grandparents, after their retirement, spend considerable time with children and this gives the parents to pursue their careers better. There is no need for baby sitters as the families extend their help and are there with each other in thick and thins. In case of special needs children, this support is crucial and I am happy that like so many other mothers I know, I too have it.
To paint you a picture of India, I would like to take a few lines from the blog of a bagpacker who travelled to northwest India recently. ( courtesy :www.quora.com/Is-India-a-good-travel-destination)
“Here’s the way I will try to describe India if someone asked me. Imagine your senses are a bunch of analog volume knobs. Volume is used to describe sound but let’s imagine you have volume knobs for your other senses as well.India turns the volume up on all of them. I feel that could help someone understand what it feels like to be there. The smells, the density of people, the stares, the rickshaws, the saris/turbans/burqas, the flavors, the honking, the bells, the animals, the crazy driving, the temples, the smiles, the monkeys…everything is on full blast. Imagine full blast in your head phones, then transfer that to your other senses.”
how beautifully and politely put and how true too, one definitely cannot escape the stimulation here. no one can hide anywhere without being exposed to thousand different things everyday. one is never the audience, he is always the part. Our children are being simulated by the environment all the time. Beyond their parents they are dealing with grandparents, maids, local temple people, neighbours, relatives, extended family and many more everyday, trying to talk, to understand, and to communicate. so where the OTs and the special educators are not reaching, the environment is doing its bit.
India has the largest diversity of religions, languages and races. Apart from being the birth place of 2 of the top 4 religions in the world, it has also given birth to Sikhism, Jainism and were among the handful of places that opened arms to religions such as Judaism, Zorastranism and Christianity (before 300 AD). and It is not just the religion. Spirituality in a non religious way is what new generations find happy to accept.
Religion and spirituality mostly make our world go round and Indians largely believe in a super divine power and the concept of heaven, hell and reincarnation. While this has nothing to do with parenting a special needs child directly but practising any religion helps you deal with the mounting stress and gives you a better understanding of life and Karma in general. If you are in India, you don’t choose to think about all this, you are thinking these things by default.
Most Indians believe in destiny too and the belief that whatever is happening in their life is because God wants it that way. Faith in a higher power gives us perspective and the ability to look at the situation objectively helps us coming to terms with the realities of life and accepting our children as a blessing from above, ‘special needs’ or ‘typical’.
5. Society and the community
In west, you might frown at a neighbour knocking at your door at odd hours but in India, it’s totally acceptable and one is used to the neighbours poking and friends and extended family dropping by without informing. All these situations may come across as intrusion but here we term them as love or concern. I have had my neighbour pick up my son twice from school last year when I got stuck in a bad traffic jam. I have slept at my friend’s house with her kids when she and her husband were attending to her sick mother in law in the hospital and my friends when travelling with their special needs children to a different city can easily stay with another family without feeling awkward.
In absence of family, the friends, neighbours and relatives come extremely handy in case of a special needs child. Almost all the parents of special needs children, I know have this unconditional support in India.
India is as diverse as one can imagine. It teaches one to survive within limited means. It also prepares one for the worst and surprise with the best. Yes it is chaotic, over populated but there is a rhythm in the chaos, a place for everyone, a beautiful randomness. Just like our life with our special angels; there is uncertainty, unpredictability but not without hope and happiness. And India gives us that hope.