Walk along with Shadab

Twelve-year-old Shadab is a child in an urban resettlement colony in New Delhi, India. He has a hearing and communication impairment. He never attended school because his family, after a discussion with his school teacher when he was five years old, came to the conclusion that he could not cope with academics. He wears a hearing aid. He comes now to the Community Centre regularly, where the rehabilitation team focusses on his language and communication skills, functional academics and pre-vocational skill development.

Illustrated here is an activity of preparing vegetable salad. This exercise is used for developing communication and social skills. The activity has the following steps:

  1. The teacher ‘communicates’ with Shadab what they are going to do, what the required materials would be and the steps involved in making a vegetable salad.
  2. The activity is conducted using physical and verbal prompts. Gradually, the physical instructions are reduced and Shadab starts doing things independently. These include maintaining hygiene, washing his hands, collecting the required materials, cleaning the utensils and vegetables, peeling and cutting vegetables and finally arranging them in the salad plate.
  3. It finally includes sharing the vegetable salad equally with all and serving it to the people in a suitable plate or bowl.

The whole activity is communicated using:

  • The real objects, introduced with certain signs that the friends and the family have adopted.
  • Pasting relevant pictures on the wall and pointing to the pictures when necessary.
  • Some of these signs include those indicating activities such as cutting, peeling, etc.
  • Gestures to show good, bad, right, wrong, can do better, etc.
  • Functional academics—the number concept, sight words of the objects he used for making the vegetable salad.

Through the activity, Shadab learns to communicate about:

  • The materials needed.
  • The steps for making the salad.
  • His needs, feelings, etc.

After completing the activity, the teacher asks Shadab a wide range of questions. He answers with gestures, actions and simple sounds, pointing to the materials and visual aids such as the charts, etc. He also writes out the answers and expresses himself through drawings.

Through this activity, the child also learns social behaviour, such as taking turns, sharing with others, serving the salad, self-hygiene, welcoming others, asking others for their opinions, being able to give reasons for their actions (for example, he has added more salt and will do better next time), winding up and clearing the place, etc. With outsiders, he communicates through signs, gestures, pictures, etc.

With every new activity, Shadab’s vocabulary is increasing. Learning through activities serves the following purposes:

  • It gives a central concept/activity to develop communication.
  • It makes learning interesting and makes it easier for children such as Shadab to pay attention for a longer period.
  • Children are taught one new skill every time.

Over a period of three months, it was also noted that Shadab had started vocalizing, using simple guttural sounds or vowel sounds with intonations when socializing with his friends in the learning group.

Shadab listens to his teachers explaining how they are going to make vegetable salad. She tells them what they are going to use and do, and shows them through pictures the process of making the salad.

Shadab begins making the salad, helped by the physical and verbal prompts of his teachers. Gradually, he becomes better and better at following instructions and learns to do things by himself. In the process, he also learns hygiene, handling food appropriately, peeling and cutting vegetables, arranging a salad in a suitable plate or bowl (cognitive and motor skills), serving the salad to others in the group, taking turns, welcoming others, asking others for their opinions, giving reasons for doing something, winding up and clearing the area (social skills).

Shadab’s communication skills get enhanced by seeing the pictures of the ingredients on the charts and communication boards, by touching the real objects and by interacting with the teachers and peers through gestures and the use of sight words. He writes out answers to questions and expresses himself through drawings. With each new activity, his vocabulary, attention span and ability to grasp concepts increase. He becomes better equipped as he displays more ease with skills. Today, he vocalizes simple vowel and consonant sounds to socialize with his friends in the learning group.