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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.


How does the teenage brain work?

Understanding the working and development of the teenage brain
Ritika Dhaliwal

"The young are heated by nature as drunken men by wine” 
– Aristotle

Adolescence comes with a lot of emotional and behavioural changes. It is marked by confusion in the minds of teenagers as well as the adults surrounding them. Even as adults make an effort to understand what makes them impulsive, moody and highly prone to taking risks, it's important to remember that teenagers too are struggling with understanding their emotions and reactions.

Biology textbooks in school talk about the physical changes in an adolescent 's body; but rarely is there any focus on the development of the brain and how it determines the behavior of adolescents and young adults.

Let’s consider some situations that may seem familiar in the context of adolescents we have interacted with. An adolescent goes to a mall to watch a movie but comes back with a new phone, spending all the money he has been saving for a long time. Another one buys a new skateboard, starts skateboarding on the rooftops and ends up hurting himself. And yet another child gets into drugs and drinking alcohol with his friends at the pretext of doing something new. So what is it in the brains of teenagers that leads them to ignore the possible dangers and indulge in risky behaviour?

It is believed that the major part of brain development happens during the early years of childhood. Although the brain reaches 90 per cent of its full size by the age of six, it is still extensively remodelling and changing till the mid-twenties. It resembles a network and wiring upgrade - it is establishing new connections and getting rid of old ones which are not of use anymore. Connections in the brain refer to the different networks of communication that occur within it.

Understanding adolescents' behavior

There are two parts of the brain that are very important in understanding adolescents' behavior -- the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for reasoning, thinking, logic, creativity, inhibitory control etc. The limbic system is responsible for processing emotions such as anger and sensitivity to danger, and for for reward processing.

The prefrontal cortex develops after the limbic system. This is the reason adolescents tend to be ruled more by their emotions than by reason, logic or impulse. The reward processing centre is also more sensitive at this age than during childhood or adulthood. Therefore, they tend to indulge in dangerous behavior.

In fact, the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that helps us think of the potential consequences of our actions – does not fully develop until the mid-twenties. This explains why teenagers have less regard for potential consequences. If something makes them feel good, they tend to do it for the momentary pleasure.

The continued development and plasticity of the brain can, however, be used to push adolescents to develop many creative skills as well. You can engage with an adolescent in a way that encourages them to pick up new skills and improve the existing ones. Connections that are being used often in the brain at this age are strengthened and the ones which are not used often are discarded, just like a gardener would cut out the weaker branches of a bush so that the strong ones grow even stronger.

What adults can do

As adults, it is essential to mentor adolescents in a way that does not cause them to feel like they are being bossed around or controlled. The brain is very adaptive and malleable during this age and good mentoring and support can go a long way in the development of the adolescent brain. One should also be careful to not stigmatize impulse control, risk-taking or self-consciousness in children of this age. This will only cause them to get frustrated and engage in more rebellious behavior.

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