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With its innovative thinking, Ishanya India Foundation raises the bar when it comes to inclusion

From the time she was five years old, Habeeba showed a keen interest in art. A skill, her mother Mahjabeen Jan was aware of but had little idea of how to help her develop it. There were far too many challenges that she was coping with given that Habeeba was diagnosed with a learning disorder.

Until they found Ishanya India Foundation nearly one year ago.

Located in Bengaluru, Ishanya reaches out to children and youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, Learning Disability, Down syndrome, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

"It is as if the missing aspects her personality have come to life," says Mahjabeen. "Aspects that were lost out in a mainstream education system. There is a synergy of inclusiveness here that has helped identify her talents. We knew she was a good artist but Ishanya has given her the opportunity to express it."

At Ishanya, the approach followed is quite eclectic and varied, with a curriculum designed for every child's needs. It is an approach that Swathi Vellal Raghunandan, Founder-Director, Ishanya India Foundation arrived at based on her experience in the field of clinical psychology.

An experience that moved her to make a switch from diagnosis to actually working with parents and children to enable them.

For children between 5 to 11 years, there is one on one intervention in readiness skills, reading, writing, and cognitive skills. For children above 11, we also have a functional academic program which happens on a computer. What we found is that while children above 11-12 years face difficulties in writing, there is a drastic growth witnessed when you put them on the computer. - Swathi Vella Raghunandan, Founder-Director, Ishanya India Foundation.

It is this out of the box thinking that sets Ishanya apart. It's also evident in their recently launched Spruha, which is a skill development transition program.

"We were getting requests from parents of 14-15-year old's asking what next for their kids. This is an age group where they can't fit into a mainstream school but are too young to start a vocational training program. "

Spruha addresses that in a unique way through a curriculum designed in-house after consultations with parents. These are group sessions with the first half of the day focusing on core skills development, including communication, socio-behavioural skills and functional life skills. "We take them out and expose them to different kinds of things so it's visual. There are mock exercises, role plays, etc. so they know how to respond in a certain situation," says Raghunandan.

The second half is spent on vocational training where skills like graphic design, web designing and photo editing are taught. There are also programs in office and administrative work. Skills that, as Raghunandan points out, are "of use in the outside world."

Anuradha Vithal Madyalkar's 22-year-old son Nihal is part of the Spruha program and she is happy with his progress.

"Nihal is good with computers and does a lot of digitization and uses input and output devices. He is also developing content for Ishanya. Of late, he is using software that is used for building designs."

Anuradha is happy that her child is productively engaged and is part of an environment that is loving and supportive. "Even when some children throw a major tantrum, the caregivers don't make it a major issue. They tell us but it's not like they are making a complaint. It comes from concern."

This sense of dedication and commitment is something all parents testify to.

Sithalakshmi Gautham's 17-year-old daughter Divya has autism and is a strong visual learner. "At Ishanya, they have been providing her with written visual instructions which has helped her confidence. Most of the activities are computer-based and Divya is very comfortable with computers. This has further helped her to do the tasks confidently."

To cope with funding challenges, Ishanya has struck up some unique partnerships.

On Children's Day last year, it launched Project Limelight, a partnership with clothing and lifestyle boutique Milk Teeth where children from the center modelled the boutique's new line of clothing. It also collaborated with Edu-Tech startup Plastic Water Labs, to use virtual reality as a means of making learning fun.

Clearly this is one organization that is raising the bar with some innovative ideas in its quest to build an inclusive society.

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