8 schools shut their doors on autistic boy

Admission season is admittedly a stressful time for all parents, but for Lt Colonel (retd) S K Tewari and his wife, the ordeal has stretched to painful proportions. For months now, the former army man and his wife have been going from one school to another, pleading with authorities to admit their nine-year-old son Abhinav. Each school has gently but firmly turned him away.

Abhinav (9) loves to work on his computer. Pic/Sunil Tiwari

Abhinav suffers from Attention Deficit Hyper Activity disorder with traits of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. In school circles, he has been labelled a child with ‘special needs.’

Pic/Sunil Tiwari

Tewari (40) moved base from Raipur to Mumbai few months ago, hoping that the city, with its spirit of inclusion and ‘world standards’, would offer his son the best available options in mainstream education. Months into his stay, however, he isn’t so sure.

The denials amount to a violation of the child’s basic right to education, which is guaranteed in the nation by the Right to Education Act.

Big move
After Abhinav Tewari (9) was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyper Activity disorder with a few traits of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, his physicians recommended that he be enrolled in a regular school, as it would help his development.

“We have been struggling to get Abhinav admitted to school since May, and even after visiting eight schools personally, they have rejected his application. I have bought each of the admission forms that cost between Rs 750-2000, and even assured the schools that I would work with them and be with my child as a shadow teacher. Each of the schools gave different excuses,” said Abhinav’s mother Shweta Tewari (35), who is a teacher qualified to handle the needs of special children, having received training in the area after Abhinav was diagnosed with autism. Shweta even offered to render her services to the schools for free, provided they admitted her son. This offer too was turned down.

“We have relocated from Raipur only to get our son assistance for his disability, which is available in Mumbai. But this has become a nightmare for us,” she said. “My husband did his job well and saved numerous lives. But his son needs his basic right to education. Doesn’t everyone’s child?”

“The Government guarantees every citizen the Right to Education, but our case proves that this is far from true,” said the parents.

Special indeed
Abhinav is an accomplished boy. He swims, plays squash and loves to play on his computer. He is hyperactive, friendly, and an attention seeker who gets restless if his overtures aren’t reciprocated. He has no tendency towards violence.

“I want to continue my fight, to mainstream my son. We are both confident that our child has the potential to do something different. “We came to the city hoping to give a new life to our child. But if Mumbai, which is otherwise known for its spirit of helpfulness, does not accept my child, we will have no option but to go back to Raipur,” said the dejected father.

A day in the life of Abhinav
8 am: Rise and shine
8.10 to 8.30 am: Brushes his teeth himself and takes a bath, with a little help from his mom
9.00 am: Breakfast. Abhinav can eat without assistance
9.20 to 11 am: Computer games, music. Abhinav is fascinated by cars and uses online search engines to look up new models of cars
11 am to 1 pm: Abhinav’s mother struggles to teach him, using the white board and the computer
1 pm to 1.30 pm: Lunch
1.30 pm to 4.30 pm: Playtime
4.30 pm to 7.30 pm: Time for a swim: Abhinav’s father takes him to a club which is located 7 km from their Juhu residence
7.30 pm: Back home, unwinds
8 pm to 8.30 pm: Abhinav’s mother takes advantage of his exhaustion-induced placidity, and teaches him some more
8.30 pm: Dinner
9 pm to 9.30 pm: Bedtime

Prasanna Kumar Pincha
Chief Commissioner for persons with disabilities, New Delhi:

“The recent amendments to the Right to Education Act have now paved the way for special children to receive education in mainstream educational institutions on an equal basis with others. India has also signed the UN convention on the Right of persons with disabilities in 2007. The convention is binding on India and the international community can intervene if it doesn’t follow it.”

Major Gopal Mitra,
Programme specialist on disability in an United Nations (UN) agency:

“Estimates suggest that there are between 180 and 220 million youth with disabilities worldwide, and almost 80 per cent of them live in developing countries. It is in the benefit of society that children and adults with disability be included in all walks of lives. If they are not included by the government in policy making, it is a violation of the human rights as well as a huge loss of potential.”

Dr Mithu Alur, Founder Chairman National Resource Centre for Inclusion and Member of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), Delhi:
“Under the recently amended Right to Education Act, every school should also accommodate children with special needs. The parents can seek redress in court, as the Right to Education Act is now the law of the land.”

Parul Kumtha, Secretary of Forum for Autism: “It is illegal to deny admission against the Right to Education Act. Instead of denying him admission, the school should provide the correct intervention programme to a child if he suffers from autism spectrum disorder.”

Dr Samir Dalwai, developmental paediatrician and director of New Horizon Child Development Centre (NHCDC): “The school should have resources to deal with children with severe ASD because regular teachers aren’t equipped to do so.”

Parents v/s schools
Beacon High School, Khar (West)
Abhinav’s parents claim: We called up the school twice and even met the counsellor on a personal basis for advice, but it was of no use.
K S Jamali, Principal: We have space limitations in our school and have filled up our seats for differently-abled children, right from nursery to Std X. Every class has two to three slots free for differently-abled children, which have already been filled.

Podar International School, (IB), Santacruz (West)
Abhinav’s parents claim: Initially we met the school principal Vandana Lulla, who agreed to give admission, but later refused via Ms Gladys, the IB coordinator.

School authorities said that Principal Dr Vandana Lulla was in the UK, and only she was authorised to speak to the media. The school then instructed MiD DAY to write an email to her and provided an email address. A mail was sent to the principal, but no reply has yet been received.

Jamnabai Narsee School, Vile Parle (West)
Abhinav’s parents claim: “We were asked by the school reception to come in October as the entire admission process was closed, and they were not even considering transfer cases for regular students.”
Sudeshna Chatterjee, Principal:
“No child named Abhinav Tewari came to our school for admission. Moreover, the RTE is not applicable to our school, which is an unaided minority institution. We have students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and we don’t deny children admission just because they have such disabilities. We have special educators to teach these students.”

VibgyorHigh, Goregaon (East)
Abhinav’s parents claim: “We met the school counsellor but they refused admission after the counsellor met Abhinav.”
Maharukh Mehta, school manager: “The school is equipped to handle only cases of mild and medium autism. In this case the child has acute autism, and if the school is not equipped to handle such special cases, we refuse admission.”

Bhakti Vedanata School, Santacruz
Abhinav’s parents claim: “We met the principal who directed us to the counsellor. The counsellor met Abhinav and reported to the principal. The principal then flatly refused admission, without even meeting Abhinav.
Armaity Engineer, Principal: “When we met the child we realised that his autism spectrum disorder is severe and cannot be handled by the school, where there are 35 students in each class. Otherwise, we do have children with the disorder who are doing well.”

Arya Vidya Mandir, Santacruz (East)
Abhinav’s parents claim: “We visited the school, the reception thanked us for visiting and asked us to return in October.”
Principal Jyothi Kumar refused to meet the reporter.

Billabong High International School, Santacruz
Abhinav’s parents claim: “The school expressed its inability to accommodate Abhinav.”
Lina Asher, Founder: “If we have committed to a particular student- teacher ratio in each class, we cannot take students beyond it. We have students with special needs in our schools and also special educators for them. If the quota for special students has already been filled, we cannot accommodate more students in that classroom.”

Panbai International School, Santacruz
Abhinav’s parents claim: “We met with the school principal Poornima Mehta but she refused to admit our son.”
Varun Shetty, administrator: “We have advised the parents to get their child admitted to a special school, as he would get better attention. Also, our school conducts a written test before admission and Abhinav did not score well in it. So we refused admission. We do admit special children.”

— Inputs by Kranti Vibhute

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