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Balavidyalaya through the years

As Balavidyalaya School for Young Deaf Children celebrates its 50th year in the city, Reshma Iqbal, a proud alumna takes a trip down memory lane

Around the age of 18 months, an ototoxic antibiotic prescribed by a doctor in Pune during a routine fever, robbed me off the ability to hear. Without hearing, I was not expected to learn to talk, like normal children do. Two decades later, I am a journalist who interviews people on a daily basis.

When I was diagnosed with a hearing loss of 85 to 90%, my parents’ world turned upside down. However, they were shown a glimmer of hope when they heard about Balavidyalaya School for Young Deaf Children, a special school in Chennai that focused on teaching hearing impaired children to ‘hear’ and ‘talk’. On learning more about the school, they discovered that Balavidyalaya (earlier known as Little Woodford) was headed by two far-sighted individuals, Menaka Parthasarathy and Saraswathi Narayanaswamy, back in late sixties when sign language was the norm. But these two ladies had a vision that a deaf child, with intensive speech therapy, hard work and to patience, could actually be taught how to ‘hear’ and ‘talk’ and one day.

Balavidyalaya through the years

Balavidyalaya, which imparts free education, considers parents as equal partners in the programme and lays profound emphasis on the parents’ training abilities at home as well. The teachers simultaneously train at least one parent along with the child, and expect the child’s progress to follow charted territory. A parent was quoted as saying that she had not cared for the anger of her bosses (at her job) but has cried in front of the teachers.

After a few years in the school, the ward is ‘mainstreamed’ ( is made to join a ‘normal’ school with other children). The successful results of the intensive training and speech therapy were soon spread by word of mouth, leading to even students coming from outside Tamil Nadu to attend the school.

Those parents who were not based out of Chennai gave up lucrative jobs to relocate to the city having to find alternate jobs and accommodation afresh. Many non-English speaking parents had to learn English to teach their child at home, as the school followed an English medium curriculum.

A gentleman in the hearing aid industry, who has been associated with Balavidyalaya since its inception, tells me, “Had it not been for the military-like rules that teachers had insisted on for parents, the students would not be shining in the world today.”

Cut the noise

When hearing-impaired children start using hearing aids for the first time, all they hear is noise. The teachers then, teach them how to associate each action with the resultant noise. When they learn this association, what was earlier perceived to be just noise, is interpreted as a meaningful sound or word. This is part of DHVANI (Development of Hearing, Voice and Natural Integration), an intensive language programme, which Bala Vidyalaya has developed.

In this form of education, individual attention is given to children which allow them to reach their full potential intellectually, socially and emotionally, at their own pace. Regular observation along with continuous assessment using the DHVANI assessment cards and keys, provide a detailed picture of each student’s progress. DHVANI trainers are also awarded a Diploma for Teaching Young Hearing Impaired (DTYHI) recognized by the Rehabilitation Council of India, New Delhi, and the Government of Tamil Nadu.

The students are taught to listen, talk, read and write, through activity-based learning. No formal text books are followed. And, the learning does not cease after school hours . Parents are expected to continue with the lessons. It is also essential that someone accompanies the child all the time so that he/she does not lose the practice of listening to, and talking. ‘Mainstreaming’ the child after a few years ensures that the child has the chance to improve his or her speech clarity by interacting with other children. During the early years, lip reading is also vital in understanding speech.

Today, Balavidyalaya, the non-residential, private and non-profit early intervention centre for infants and children with hearing impairment till five years, runs sister schools all over India and has a teachers’ training institute as well. The school houses a state-of-the-art diagnostic centre and provides students with the required hearing aids. The alumni include PhD candidates, software engineers, bank employees and sportspersons.

Twenty-three years after my hearing impairment diagnosis, I landed my first job after completing my Master’s degree. And, by becoming a journalist with a leading newspaper, I met people from all walks of life. Ironic, indeed.

Balavidyalaya will celebrate its 50th anniversary in December 2019. For the year-long celebration, the school will organise a series of monthly events to increase awareness.

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