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With various interventions for disabled kids under one roof, Muskan brings a smile to people's faces

October 30, 2018

Four-year-old Aaradya Palkar could not see things at a distance and was also hyperactive. She was certified totally blind at birth. Today after two years of vision and occupational therapy, she can see dramatically better and shows improved behavior.

"She can see now. Her vision is not totally clear, but so much better," says mother Rutuja Palkar. "And this has all happened without any medication."

For Aaradya's parents, her diagnosis at birth was a double blow. They were already struggling to cope with an older child with a hearing disability and ataxia. Ataxia is a degenerative disease of the nervous system linked to the cerebellum. It affects movement and some of the signs are slurred speech, stumbling and falling.

The Palkars were running around between various therapy centers for their kids when a hospital referred them to Muskan, a foundation for people with multiple disabilities. Founded by Dipti Gandhi, Muskan offers a range of services like early intervention, education, therapy, and counselling to children with multiple disabilities with visual impairment.

It is the only school in Mumbai offering these services to children with multiple disabilities, about which there is little awareness in India, says Gandhi.

By multiple disabilities, we mean a combination of 2-3 disabilities, even more. Children who have multiple disabilities need special education, physiotherapy, speech therapy, vision rehabilitation therapy, etc but these are rarely offered in the same place and parents have to run around trying to get their children the help they need.- Dipti Gandhi, Founder, Muskan

Muskan offers all these services under one roof. Plans called Individualised Educational Programmes (IEP) cater to every child's needs. "The teacher does an assessment and develops an IEP for the entire year," says Gandhi. "Each child has a specific IEP and there is one teacher for three students."

Muskan also offers a vision rehabilitation programme devised by Ms Gandhi, the only organization in Mumbai to do so.

"We initially stimulate the vision depending on the condition of the child and the medical history. Vision depends on balance and the sense of touch and we work on the child's visual skills using a sensory integration model. The aim is to bring the child as close as possible to the milestone", says Gandhi.

Megha Rajput's son was born with developmental delays due to an under developed cerebellum. He was also diagnosed as 100% blind.

"He would respond when I showed him flashing toys, so I knew the doctors were not entirely correct about his vision," says Rajput. "We came to Muskan when he was seven months old and Aarav was put on vision therapy. He started improving almost immediately. We did an assessment a month ago and he is absolutely fine. He makes proper eye contact now," says the elated mom.

What makes Muskan so special is also the attitude and atmosphere of support it extends. The average fee ranges from Rs 3,000-4,000 and the costs are reduced dramatically for children from economically backward families. "Some children attend our centers for as much as RS 100," says Gandhi. "We also have conveyance for the children."

"It's not just the children they support, but also the families," says Rajput. "While coping with my child's issues, I faced so many problems from my family and they helped me find ways to cope with those as well."

Sentiments affirmed by Palkar, who faced struggles on the monetary front as well. "My husband's imitation jewellery business collapsed while we were struggling to manage our children's therapies. Until we found Muskan. Muskan has truly put the muskan back in my face!"

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