Their own struggle helped them develop empathy towards others. The empathy, in turn, helped them build a solid support system for other parents of children with special needs. This is the inspiring story of K. Madhu Babu and D. Varija, a Dubai-returned couple and their children – a 9-year-old autistic son, Hem Sreesh, and a 7-year-old daughter Varhsini who lives with learning disabilities.
“Every parent builds a future for their children with education, property, bank balance, etc. In the same way, I wanted to place some responsible people around my children to support them after my wife and I are gone,” says Babu, the founder of a unique and thoughtful organization called Parents Association for Children with Special Needs (PAC).
Sreesh Mandiram, located in Bairagipatteda near Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh, is the first school started by PAC. The seeds for the project were sown with the formation of PAC in December 2010 by Babu and Varija.
They came back to India with the mission to start an organisation for children with special needs and their parents.
“We often find children roaming on the streets, abandoned by their parents. I feel scared about the fate of my children after us, whenever I see them. I want parents to have the confidence and the assurance that our children will be taken care of even after our deaths,” says Babu.
How PAC is helping parents of children with special needs:
Here are some examples of situations where PAC has intervened, making a difference in the lives of children with mental disabilities and their parents.
A man who was an ophthalmologist died of a sudden heart attack. PAC supported his dependent and shattered wife and counselled her to look past her problems and gave her courage to focus on her child. Today, she is no longer helpless and is working in a state government hospital with her head held high. She is a pillar of support and inspiration for her child.
A mother of a girl with special needs lost her husband. Today, with the support of PAC, she’s not only looking after her family but is also taking care of the business and contributing towards PAC.
Another woman was left by her husband because of their child’s disability. She took up a job in Dubai to establish a financial foothold for her family. The child, living with his grandmother, was physically and emotionally taken care of by PAC.
PAC’s first aim has been to unite all the parents, so that they can function as one community, and support and solve each other’s problems. Help of all sorts, be it financial or personal or health-related, is provided to everyone.
The next step is to provide individual assistance, guidance and training to each child, enabling him or her to be able to be independent in the future.
“We have children who are mentally challenged, autistic, have cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and are slow learners. We help children in our school to develop independently, and the first important step for this is to interact with people. We should not put them in four walls. We have a lot to do and we are working on that,” says Babu.
The Parents Association thus started conducting counselling and sharing sessions where mothers assume the key roles and share their experiences.
How the school came about:
Babu and Varija noted how education for special children was not getting its due, in spite of the fact that it is a significant pre-cursor to later independence and confidence in special children. They realised how parents, due to lack of awareness, financial support or time, are not able to impart the required educational training to their children.
Babu recalls from his personal experience with Hem Sreesh, “By the time my son was diagnosed, he was already taking special therapy in Dubai. We were getting very good results. It was Applied Behaviour Analysis Therapy (ABA). My wife diverted her career to special education and therapies. She started this because if she did a regular job, nobody would be there to take care of our children. She completed her course in B.Ed as well as Special Education in Dubai.”
Eventually, they started the Sreesh Mandiram school near Tirupathi for imparting special education, physiotherapy and ABA therapy, with the help of doctors visiting from a local super speciality hospital called SVIMS.
A day at Sreesh Mandiram starts with prayer, followed with physiotherapy sessions and special education lessons. The afternoon time again includes special therapies (focussing on ABA), speech and occupational therapies, and physical activities to ensure fitness.
“These children are not able to express what they are going through. When they come to the special needs school, they are trained specially on how to get on a bus, how to mix with other children, etc. For instance, my son earlier didn’t know where to go if he is hungry. But my wife has trained him to go to the kitchen if he is hungry, take the plate, put rice and whatever else he wants, and eat. He could not even handle a plate before. But now he’s okay,” says Babu.
The mothers interact with Varija who helps the ladies in forgetting their hardships and in working for the betterment of their children. She guides them on the type of treatment and government policies that can benefit them.
“According to government policies, every child is entitled to receive Rs. 500, but that’s too little. My child requires at least Rs. 2,000. So these kinds of problems are all discussed with the parents in the meeting, especially mothers. My wife, who is a certified therapist, also counsels families from neighbouring villages who come and take some training with us and go back,” says Babu.
Doctors, paediatricians ophthalmologists, dentists, dermatologists, and other medical specialists visit the school every 2-3 months and the consultations are for free.
Children here are seen as living gods and are served with love, care, warmth, and respect.
Unfortunately, Babu and Varija lost Sreesh on December 9, 2015. At the age of 10, Sreesh suddenly got a very high fever one day and it was accompanied by fits. They took him to the hospital but he could not be saved.
PAC’s ultimate vision is to implement a lifelong supportive organisation under the Tirupathi temple trust to serve the children. We wish them the very best for this noble endeavour!