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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.


Yes, I had a therapist. And no, I didn't have a mental illness.

How therapy helped Pooja become more empathetic towards herself.
Pooja Rao

I first thought about approaching a therapist/counselor when I was doing my postgraduate degree in the US. I was going through a bad breakup, and job opportunities were scarce due to the recession. I made an appointment with a counselor at the university but backed out on the day of my appointment.

It was only in 2013 that I finally met a therapist. This was a requirement as part of a Creative Arts Therapy course I had enrolled for. I didn’t connect with the first therapist I met. So I approached another one, who I consulted for nearly a year.

Early this year, I decided to approach a therapist because of recurring patterns in life due to childhood trauma (I am a survivor of child sexual abuse), and questions on life and relationships. But I actually thought hard for at least a month before I made the appointment.

Last year, I was a part of a drama therapy group that comprised women who have had unwanted and unpleasant childhood sexual experiences.

My partner and close friends have been supportive about me seeing a therapist. Many friends are also appreciative about the fact that I have taken time to invest in self-care and my emotional wellbeing. On the other hand, I have also got quizzical expressions from some friends and colleagues. There have been times when I have suggested to friends and family members that they approach a therapist because of tough times they are going through. Some have been receptive to this and seen the value of seeing a therapist. Others have vehemently refused or dismissed it saying it’s not for them, or that they’ll figure out other ways to deal with their life situations.

There is a lot of taboo and several misconceptions when we talk about therapy. And though this is slowly changing, there is the issue of good or certified therapists. Many people call themselves counselors or therapists after a few months’ long program. I once met one such at a gathering who believed that women need to be submissive for relationships to work and, that this is what she tells her clients. A friend of mine was consulting a therapist for eight months, and she had such a bad experience that she decided to never again consult a therapist in India.

I think people will be more inclined to seeking therapy if we create more awareness about it. We alo need to have systems in place for certification or recognition of therapists.

I have often found solace when my friends have shared their stories and experiences. And I’m writing this so that I can share my experience with more people and reduce the taboo around therapy.

My experiences with therapy this year and the drama therapy group I was part of last year, have both been helpful. They have helped me understand myself better and have opened up new perspectives and dimensions to different life situations. Therapy has made me question my own beliefs and helped me be more empathetic to myself.

Different methods of therapy work for different people. For me, a combination of talk therapy with art and drama therapy has been powerful. I have also found group therapy to be effective for me.

When I have health problems, I initially take medicines or take rest to become better. If I don’t, I go to a doctor. I draw the same analogy in going to a therapist for my emotional and mental wellbeing.

Pooja Rao is an engineer by training and has worked in the development sector for more than seven years. She is a strong advocate for equal opportunities. She is currently working with Enable India in setting up India’s first online platform to mainstream livelihood opportunities for persons with disability. 

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