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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.


Want to talk to a friend with a substance use problem but don't know how?

Talking to a loved one about their substance use can be challenging. Here are some tips
Sriranjitha Jeurkar

It can be hard to watch someone you know struggle with a substance abuse issue. It can also be hard to initiate a conversation with them about it - what if they’re offended? Will they even listen to me? Will my intervention help?

(Read: What does addiction look like?)

A person with addiction may experience different levels of motivation or readiness to change, before they decide to quit. Whether they act upon your suggestion depends on where they are in their readiness. And as with all change, it is most effective when the motivation comes from within

That said, a person with addiction may be aware of the impact of their habit but feel unable to stop using the substance (whether alcohol, tobacco or drugs). If you have a certain level of influence with your friend or colleague, your intervention may let them know that they have support, should they attempt to quit; and may even prompt them to get help.

(Read: Is addiction a matter of choice?)

What not to say to someone with addiction

Often, when speaking to someone with addiction, our concern might prompt us to say something that the other perceives as blame, particularly when our statements imply that they’re making a wrong choice. These could include statements such as:

  • Can’t you see you’re ruining your life and health?

  • Don’t you care about your family and children?

  • You can’t quit at this rate

  • You’re being an irresponsible spouse/ employee/ parent

  • Your alcohol is the cause of all your problems

Any comments that lead to the listener feeling criticized might lead to the person feeling defensive, and makes it less likely that they will consider what you are telling them.

What can I say instead?

Begin the conversation casually. The timing may be important: it’s unlikely that they will be in a frame of mind to listen to you if they’re intoxicated, or feeling physically unwell. Check with them before you begin the conversation if they’re willing to talk to you.

You can begin the conversation by referring to the behavior that you’ve observed in them. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been late to work quite often recently, and I’m concerned about you.” A person who’s addicted to a substance may find it hard to focus on how their habit is impacting their relationships and the people around them, and this information can offer them a perspective. Leading with your concern helps keep the conversation going.

Instead of referring to the adverse effects of the substance, talk about the impact of their habit on their health or work, or something else that matters to them. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been consistently late arriving to work the last few weeks. Is there a problem? Do you need help?”

If they want to tell you about their habit, or why they use the substance, listen to them without interrupting - give them the space to express themselves, even if they’re saying something you don’t agree with; consider their point of view. Maybe they’re using the substance due to stress or loneliness, or even want to quit but don’t know how and feel frustrated about it.

Leave it open: “Would you consider seeking help to quit?”

Assure them of your support and offer them options without coercing them into taking them.

But I'm so worried about them and I don't know if I can have a balanced conversation...

It can be very challenging to talk to a friend or loved one about their substance use, without wanting to convince them or make them quit. It is not easy to detach from their actions and understand where the limit of your influence ends, which is why self-care becomes absolutely essential.

Before you begin the conversation, ask yourself what support you may need to talk to your loved one. This could include having a conversation with someone you trust or with a counselor or a helpline to get clearer about what you can say. And be prepared to receive a defensive response from the other. 

If the person is unwilling to seek help, all you can do is wait. Should that happen, you may feel helpless, angry or frustrated; but if you’re overwhelmed with the emotions and stress approaching a counselor or therapist can help you come to terms with the situation.

This piece has been written with inputs from Dr Divya Nallur, senior consultant psychiatrist, People Tree Marga, Bangalore.

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