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Walking towards hope

R Sriram Srinivas, who has multiple disabilities—mental retardation and spastic diplegia—takes a breather during his yoga session at home. P Settu, his yoga therapist, who has been teaching Sriram two years now, says that Sriram used to be inattentive and restless, but now follows instructions well and has mellowed down significantly.  



Images and text by Naveen P M

Walking towards hope (2/9)

M Vanitha, Sriram's teacher, helps Sriram wear his dance apparel before the start of the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' at Don Guanella Special School in Chennai. Due to Sriram's condition, simple tasks such as putting on clothes can become a chore and he often ends up needing some assistance. 


Walking towards hope (3/9)

Sriram rides his bicycle—fitted with a custom-made backrest—flanked by special education teacher, G V Arumugam. Arumugam has known Sriram for 15 years and was initially hired to teach him basic reading and writing skills. On Sriram's parents' request, he started to assist Sriram in walking and then taught him how to ride a bicycle so he could improve his muscle tone. 

Read Sriram's story here


Walking towards hope (4/9)

R Devi helps Sriram read a clock at Sai Sri Ram Training Centre. Sriram has difficulty reading and writing even basic words, and has a hard time grasping universal concepts such as time, date, and money. Devi is Sriram's favorite teacher. Sai Sri Ram Training Centre has eight students with special needs, two teachers, and a domestic help. The school functions from 10 am to 3 pm and keeps the students busy with a plethora of activities such as coloring, computer games, and yoga.


Walking towards hope (5/9)

M R Karthik, physical trainer, subjects Sriram to one of the many "balancing exercises" to improve his balance and correct his "scissor gait". Karthik has been training Sriram for the last two years. "In the beginning, Sriram could hardly stand for a minute on his own and displayed a lot of traits commonly seen in persons with Intellectual Disability (ID), such as lack of eye contact, droning, drooling...," says Karthik.

Read Sriram's story here


Walking towards hope (6/9)

Sriram and his classmates from Sai Sri Ram Training Centre perform to a medley of Bollywood songs at the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' held in Don Guanella Special School, Chennai. P Dharani Kumar, a professional choreographer, composed the dance moves for this performance. He visits the school every weekend to teach dance to these students. "Sriram usually has trouble recollecting and executing my dance moves but he stepped his game up through some spontaneous moves," he said. 

Read Sriram's story here

Walking towards hope (7/9)

Sriram is ecstatic after receiving a silver medal for the Standing Long Jump event. His driver, D Alvin (right), and Sriram's mother, R Vanitha, gather around to congratulate him, at the Special Olympics Sports Meet held on YMCA Grounds, Chennai. Sriram shares a special bond with Alvin and the two can often be seen engaging in healthy banter. 


Walking towards hope (8/9)

Sriram does a lap of backstroke at The League Club, Chennai. His parents introduced him to swimming at the age of seven after a doctor suggested hydropathy as treatment. Sriram has been training under U Sathish Kumar, swim coach for children with special needs, for one year now. Sriram won four gold medals in as many events at two swim meets for para-athletes held last year in Tamil Nadu.


Walking towards hope (9/9)

Dr J Paul Devasagayam, Area Director, Special Olympics Bharat, Tamil Nadu, reviews Sriram Srinivas's progress with his mother, R Vanitha, during one of their monthly meetings at his 100-square-foot office in Purasawalkam, Chennai.


A disability need not affect your body image

Shreya Sridharan-Mhatre

Body image in itself is a perception of one’s own body, how we see our own physical body, its parts, the size, shape and various other attributes. Since it is a perception, it is influenced by various factors in our lives - our environment, the subtle and the not-so-subtle messages, our memories and the various assumptions and generalizations we use to judge ourselves and the world around.

A negative body image is characterized by negative self-talk, obsessing over the color, shape, perceived deformity, lack or weakness of a body part/s/sensory organ and so on. What may make it more difficult  for a person with disability is their level of acceptance of their disability, which may complicate the body image issues. Sadly, negative body image can make one prone to various other mental health challenges such as depression, eating disorders, becoming isolated, and low self-esteem. 

When it comes to dealing with body image issues, apart from a supportive environment and support system to give you positive affirmation, a large part of the work has to be done by the person themselves. To start a journey towards being body positive: 

  1. Start recognizing the sources of body negative messages—people, TV, social media and so on—and do as much to keep away from these sources. Most importantly, try and substitute it with sources that give you body positive messages.

  2. Ask yourself if your acceptance of your disability is coming in the way of accepting your body. Many a times, unless the primary issue is tackled, other issues develop around it, making it more complicated. In that case, it would be a good idea to start working on the acceptance of the disability and then move on to other concerns.

  1. Keep a diary of your thoughts. Write down your negative and positive thoughts. This can help you to become more aware of one’s own negative self-talk and help one recognize the triggers of such thoughts.

  2. Reaching out to a support group in your city may also be a great way to actively seek out a group of people, a safe space where one can share and listen to stories and learn from each other.

  3. Actively building your awareness about negative body image – how it forms and how it impacts us – through reading, watching talks on the internet or attending relevant live talks and so on. This would help us to introspect into our own experiences and our own patterns of thought.

  4. Take care of your body and behave in self-loving ways which include eating healthy, having an exercise routine, and pampering and indulging yourself every once in a while. 

  5. Develop hobbies and learn to go out of your comfort zones to learn new skills. This will help you go beyond how your body looks and focus on what you can achieve with this amazing instrument that you have been given.

  6. Last but not the least, if and when you feel that you are not able to face this on your own, it may be a very good idea to reach out to a mental health professional, who through the therapy process, may help you understand yourself better and work through your concerns...'

Shreya Sridharan-Mhatre is Mumbai based psychologist. 

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