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An instinctive, nurturing approach enables this music teacher to unearth talents in disabled students

From Chennai comes this story of music teacher Monali Sanyal Balasubramaniam who is using her skills to teach people with disabilities.

Nine years ago, Monali Sanyal Balasubramaniam changed tracks from a thriving corporate career to explore her passion for music. A trained musician, she began teaching multiple genres as well as performing solo. Life took an unexpected turn when the mother of a child with a disability approached Monali for lessons.

"A mother of a special child approached me through a common friend about nine years back, pretty much in the beginning of my musical career and thus started my foray into teaching and interactions with special children through music", she recalls.

What looked like a one off led to the start of an immensely fulfilling experience. Today, Monali is widely known and respected for her ability to connect with people of different disability types through music. Her approach is instinctive, and varied depending on individual needs.

I have not undergone any formal training for teaching special children, much of my approach is intuitive and instinctive. However, I have of late read up papers and articles to supplement my methodology. I find that the non-structured approach works well. I find happiness in special children, their ability to express, learn without being judged, and the reduction in certain behavioural/ physiological aspects, like constant eyeball movements, limb movements, fits, etc. - Monali Sanyal Balasubramaniam, Music Teacher

Personal touch

It is this sense of joy she finds that has won her much love and respect. Chitra Venugopalan's daughter Kripa started taking lessons with Monali a year ago after they shifted to Chennai.

"Kripa has cerebral palsy and I was aware she was very interested in music. She has a vision problem as well, making it hard for her to focus". Monali, says Chitra, explains in a manner that Kripa understands. "She is very patient when she makes mistakes and I can see that music has helped encourage Kripa and blossom in many ways". Monali prefers to begin with one-on-one sessions and attempts inclusive sessions after a certain period of time. "I specifically teach songs and swara patterns. Some of the children have started making their own small improvisations in the songs!!", she adds.

Once the comfort and confidence levels grow, she exposes them to different art forms, artists, interactive sessions, performances. Nearly three years ago, Monali started curating performances at Cafe Mitr. This is a cafe started in 2015 by Special Child Assistance Network (SCAN) , a support group of parents of children with disabilities like autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, intellectual disability, Dyslexia, ADHD, etc.

"We do one performance a month at Cafe Mitr, ranging from vocal Hindustani, instrumental Hindustani, Carnatic music, folk music, skits, etc", says Monali. Here, she gives the students with disabilities a chance to perform as well Some of them have even performed at arts festivals. At Mitr, she organises performances by non-disabled students as well so that "inclusiveness as a concept gets understood".

Gopi Ramakrishnan, Co-founder, SCAN says Monali's performances are a much looked forward to event at Mitr. "Many of the children who have short attention spans for other activities have happily sat through and relished concerts of an hour or longer duration! This not only gives them a lot of joy that evening, but also encourages parents to understand that their children are capable of concentrating for longer periods of time if the activity is to their liking".

It is this commitment to ensuring that every child gets an opportunity to flower that makes Monali such a gifted teacher, feels Sumathi Jayakumar. Her daughter Akshara, who has hydrocephalus and poor vision, has been learning from Monali for nearly eight years now.

"Monali has patience and is sensitive to every special needs child. She understands that their needs are different and does not rush them. She allows the child to set the pace of learning and this makes her quite unique".

EMAIL Monali Sanyal Balasubamaniam at monali.rbala@gmail.com. CALL +91 98403 57799

ALSO READ:Mumbai's Ajivasan Academy is helping uncover incredible singing talent among disabled people

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