Mumbai: Autistic Std XII student fights for right to writer

After doctors at Nair Hospital’s testing centre refused to certify that the Std XII student needed a substitute writer for his HSC exams (he had got one for SSC), his family and activists now intend to approach the state education department

Can and able, a mid-day campaignAt a time when the state education department claims to be focused on enabling education for all, the reality seems quite different for an autistic student at a city junior college. While his college has agreed that, in his condition, the student needs a substitute writer for the HSC examinations, a government testing centre has denied him this right.

The Std XII student is currently enrolled at Guru Harkrishan Junior College, where he is known to perform fairly well. However, according to his parents, stress makes it difficult for him to write. This is why he was permitted to appear for the SSC exams with the help of a writer. But, when the college asked for similar approval for the HSC exams, doctors at Nair Hospital refused to certify that he needed a substitute writer in order to appear for the exams, according to Rekha Vijaykar, a senior director (school operations) at ADAPT, an organisation working to support children with special needs. Vijaykar and other ADAPT members are currently fighting for the student’s rights.

According to the student’s parents, stress makes it difficult for him to write, which is why he needs a substitute writer for the HSC examinations. Representation pic/Thinkstock
According to the student’s parents, stress makes it difficult for him to write, which is why he needs a substitute writer for the HSC examinations. Representation pic/Thinkstock

According to the rules, any student needing concessions during board exams needs to submit Form No 5 along with their registration form to the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary & Higher Secondary Education. This form needs to be approved by the school/college principal first, and then by doctors at any of the recognised testing centres.

The student’s parents said, “Our son was asked to give a couple of tests at Nair Hospital in order to get this concession again, and since he was very stressed about it, he could not perform. The doctors have not yet approved a substitute writer.” They added that after their son failed to finish all the tests, the doctors refused to approve the request unless he did so. The family is now trying to approach the board’s officials for help in this matter, and have also approached the dean of Nair Hospital for more clarity.

‘No such provision’
What’s worrying them most, however, is that the doctors told them that autistic children don’t get writers assigned for HSC board exams. “The state board does not allow writers for HSC students as there is no provision for the same. They have not yet made this facility available for students and we have rarely come across such a case before,” said Dr Alka Subramanyam, from the Nair Hospital testing centre.

She added that unless students have cerebral palsy or any form of physical disability, it is unusual to procure writers for them.

Officialspeak
To make matters worse, even the board doesn’t seem clear about the rule.

“There is no written rule that writers will not be provided. In cases where there is a necessity for a student to appear for the exam with the help of a writer, we approve the same. The only criteria is that it needs to be proved on paper with the help of tests,” said Laxmikant Pande, chairman of the Mumbai divisional board.

Activists, however, are furious with the doctors’ stand. Dr Mithu Alur, founder chairperson of ADAPT, said, “What is the need for more tests when the student already has a certificate proving he’s autistic? By denying the approval, the authorities are simply denying him the right to study further, which goes against the Right to Education (RTE) Act. They should be penalised for such behaviour. It is our duty to help and enable children, not disable them further.”

Hospital vs board
The state board does not allow writers for HSC students as there is no provision for the same. They have not yet made this facility available for students and we have rarely come across such
a case before
— Dr Alka Subramanyam, from the Nair Hospital testing centre

There is no written rule that writers will not be provided. Where there is a necessity for a student to appear for the exam with the help of a writer, we approve the same. The only criteria is that it needs to be proved on paper with the help of tests
— Laxmikant Pande, chairman of the Mumbai divisional board

Did you know?
The Forum for Autism has set up a special monitoring body to ensure that the rights of students with special needs are protected. The five members of the panel include an educator, speech therapist, developmental paediatrician and a psychiatrist. Parents will also have a representative on the panel

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