Shortly after her son’s birth in 2010, Hyderabad-based Sai Sowjanya Vasa’s life was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with speech delay. What followed were a harrowing next few years as she struggled to understand her child’s condition and help him overcome it.
In a conversation with The Better India, she recalls how she spent many nights crying and struggling to raise him. “He could speak only a few words and found it difficult to socialise. He was neglected by those who failed to understand his condition well. As a parent, it was devastating — we just wanted a healthy childhood for him,” she says.
Sai, who is an engineer, says, “There is nothing more important to me than him. I had to find a way to help him battle this condition. So I gave up my career and dedicated my full attention to understanding his requirements and helping him in every possible way.”
A fight for one, a fight for many
In 2014, Sai moved to the USA with her husband for professional reasons. Here, she began speech therapy for her child, which showed positive results. “My son began to respond well to the special education classes. The first sign of hope was when he started expressing his needs. His first words were that he was hungry,” she notes.
However, the fight was far from over. “We returned to India in 2017 and tried enrolling him in a school. But despite having made significant improvements, he was never accepted,” he says.
The school told her they had no special educators and were not accepting admissions anymore. Tired of hearing the excuses on repeat, she thought about how there might be many such children suffering the same fate as her child.
Sai recognised the need for an understanding and able educator and immediately set out on the path of becoming one. She took a course to pursue a postgraduate diploma in special needs and a diploma in child psychology to become a special educator.
“The skills I acquired helped me improve my son’s condition over months. Fortunately, it also helped him seek admission to a private school. Recognising the improvements, many parents started approaching me with a request of training their child with disabilities,” she says.
Sai received a job offer from Orchids International School at Jubilee Hills, where she began training children with autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and intellectual disabilities, among others. Sai says the training helped students bring up their marks from single digits to double, and interact confidently in the classrooms.
Hrishi Reddy, an engineer, says that his sister studying in class 8 has benefited immensely from Sai. “My sister struggled with speaking and writing issues. But the training in the school has helped improve her academic skills and performance by 50 per cent,” he says.
Sai says she customises training modules specific to the needs of each child, which make them more effective. “I teach in innovative ways. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the children could not attend school for practical lessons. So I designed motor skill exercises by including activities in the kitchen. The children were asked to play with dough instead of clay and use scissors to cut newspaper, vegetables and perform other activities to improve motor skills,” she says.
Today, Sai has been able to help around 50 children alongside her own child. “I plan to study behaviour therapy soon to help the children with special needs better,” she says.
On a concluding note, she says that her job to teach children is far more rewarding than an IT job. “The salary offered by the IT sector is comparable with my current profile, but nothing gives me more satisfaction than to see children progress, which brings smiles on their parents’ faces,” she says.
Edited by Divya Sethu