Some of Reconciled World’s partners work to teach biblical truth to churches, young people, or other Christian groups. In His Image, on the other hand, works to demonstrate the impact of biblical truth on one specific vulnerable group–students with special needs and their families. The reality is that what we believe impacts what we do. It affects people individually as well as allowing for corrupt and oppressive systems. The beliefs that disabled children are the result of a curse on their family, that they are worthless and shameful, have countless ripple effects on those with disabilities and the larger society in India. By operating a center that draws out the true potential of these children, that lie has started to be broken down. But changing deeply-held beliefs takes time, even for those closest to these students–their parents and teachers. This week, we asked the founder of In His Image to reflect on the impact of truth and lies in her work.
“Please let the van pick up our son first and drop him off last. We want him for the minimum time at home.” These are the real words of a parent of a young special needs adolescence. How it must break the heart of God to see his special ones being treated this way. Yet, we encounter this everyday, and wonder how long it will take the parents to start valuing the children as created in God’s image.
God has created each person in His image, no mistakes, no compromises. And we as His children need to affirm and demonstrate this truth in the way we reach out to children with disabilities. What we believe, and how we implement our belief impacts the way we work with our children. A teacher who believes that the children are a curse will never expect much from the child and will not work hard to bring his potential to optimum level. At worst, she may completely ignore him.
However, a teacher who is convinced that each child is created in God’s image spends time with a child, looking for ways to draw out the potential that she knows is hidden inside them. The teacher knows that the child has a purpose and the potential to achieve that purpose. The teacher’s job is to search for that potential, enhance it, and build on it. She treats the child with respect, because that child is a co-heir to the kingdom of God. It could be seen in the way the teacher explains to a child where she is being taken (therapy class, group class, games, etc), rather than dragging her to one place or another without letting her know. It can be seen in the way the teacher challenges and encourages a child to do just a little bit more than he thinks he can.
Most of us working with those with special needs in India think of it as a ‘lesser’ job. The salaries are lower than those who teach regular children, the hours are more (to be expected), the support network fewer. No wonder many feel that working with regular kids is better. However, when we work from a biblical perspective, we realize that this is a higher calling–that God is entrusting us with the care of His special children. It is with awe and holiness that we do this work, and God speaks through us. We are vessels in HIS hands. Until we understand this calling and perspective, we are just another person doing a job.
When new teachers are hired at In His Image, we train them in our values and principles that I’ve just described. It is heartening to then see the teachers applying these truths and discovering potential in their students. Eventually, the parents too start getting hopeful and then accepting their child to be of value. They begin working together with the teacher to help their child achieve his/her potential.
We watched this transformation of mind begin to happen with Jai’s parents.
Jai is a 10 year old with autism. He was our student earlier and was then withdrawn as the parents put him in a mainstream school. However they came back to us after a year, shaken because of the regression they saw in their child in one year. We welcomed Jai back, and we too were shocked at the level of regression. He had stopped eating independently (something he used to do before), and was wetting his clothes as he could not indicate his need to use the toilet.
After assessments, an intensive program of ADL (activities of daily living), occupational therapy, speech therapy and academics was put in place for Jai. We put him on a toilet schedule and were amazed that, within a week of the schedule, the accidents stopped completely. As a result of this structured program, Jai is also now eating his food independently. He has also greatly improved in academics, learning sight words, number value till 5, indentifying objects by function. He is also very good with structured activities and the iPad. Though he still struggles with sound sensitivity, we help him with a set a noise reducing earphones. His parents are pleased with the improvement that Jai has shown.
His parents had been discouraged earlier, thinking there was no hope. Over time, we shared with them and counseled them. When they asked us, we shared the hope we had and that we were sure that Jai would respond to the love and hope that both his parents and teachers exhibited. Once his parents realized that their thinking also impacts their child, they started taking cues from us. Jai is now improving and learning so well.