When students move from the 'special education' label to 'mathematics achiever', many aspects are at work, including teachers, parents, the learning process and the student.
In the case of a Chennai-based 13-year-old Adithi, her mother Nirupama Sriram has played a transformational role in bringing this label shift for her special needs child.
Her Daughter's Interest In Maths
Five years ago, she witnessed her daughter's increasing interest and understanding of maths. In the quest to find inclusive and label-less education platforms for Adithi, she got to know about a learning platform where they teach specially-abled students the same way as others.
She realised that when students are free to think in ways that make sense to them, learning disabilities or milestone delays are no longer hindrances to mathematical achievement. While Nirupama was in pursuit of helping her daughter, perceiving this dramatic change drove her to become a teacher herself.
"Life as a special needs parent is ever-changing and throws a new curve ball at each stage. My daughter has a milestone delay, a condition where a child does not reach one of the significant stages in their development at the expected age. However, this has not deterred me from ensuring that she learns in an inclusive environment. The journey so far has been chaotic, and I reached several dead ends on the way," Nirupama told The Logical Indian.
As a special needs mother, Nirupama was bombarded with advice from everyone that her daughter would not be able to relate with logic and would not understand maths concepts.
"But I tried to give it a shot by starting with pre-number maths through various websites. The colourful sheets really interested her, and I also began teaching her music which she continues online now with an outstanding teacher," she said.
Earlier, it was an unorganised way of teaching topics, but when Nirupama became a teacher, the structures developed and she learned how to cater to Adithi's level of visual needs.
Teaching Students Through Visual Aid
Nirupama believes that teaching through visual aid is helpful for all students, including those with special needs.
"I firmly believe that special needs children can understand the logic. Mathematics is the language of logic and reasoning, so I make it a point to sit with Adithi every day and teach her maths. It takes longer to explain a concept to her, but once she understands it, it stays in her memory," she added.
Today, besides Adithi, Nirupama has 52 students from across the country. She is also part of several Chennai Special Education WhatsApp groups, sharing some of her teaching skills and knowledge.
Because of her large student base, she also looks at several other unique methods to kindle children's curiosity in maths.
She believes that many special needs children are hesitant to write in notebooks or worksheets. As educators, she said, there is a need to explore and experiment with different ways to keep them engaged while imparting education. "Gamification is one proven way. I have taught Adithi addition and multiplication through the skipping method, and today she can recite her tables (up to 10-times) without looking into her textbook," she adds.
Alphanumeric series, expansion of numbers, and missing shapes have become Adithi's favourites as she understands number patterns quickly.
Nirupama believes there is a massive gap in educating children with special needs in India. "My approach enables special needs students to grasp concepts deeply and intuitively in contrast to approaches that emphasise memorisation and mechanics to understand the underlying concepts. We encourage students to think logically and tap into their rational mindset," she said.
The curriculum is highly intuitive, featuring visuals, games, puzzles, simulations, and innovative technology, making maths easy and fun for students of all ages, and levels. All the methods Nirupama uses for Adithi are visually aided. But she changes the techniques and tries other approaches once she feels her daughter cannot grasp them.
"A trial-and-error method is not that suitable for special needs children. They need to learn through visuals, practice the process and in time (sometimes as much as 3 to 6 months) master the concept," Nirupama shared.
"English comprehension is also equally important as they must answer word or statement problems. For this also, I use visual aids like drawing the word problem on paper using shapes or something relevant to that problem," she added.
Nirupama is on a more incredible and more meaningful journey to help other students in a way that blossoms their understanding and intelligence.