Express press service
MADURAI: When 11-year-old Muthukumar was diagnosed with mild intellectual disability about 15 years ago, his parents were devastated. But the couple, R Balamurugan and his wife Sundari, have not been mired in fear or stigma around mental illness.
They asked for help at the right time. Muthukumar has struggled with reading and writing since childhood. Initially, his family thought it was normal and that he would get better with time. But things got worse and when he reached class 4, his teachers suggested that he be transferred to a special school.
“When we were informed that our son was struggling with an intellectual disability, we were heartbroken. We couldn’t help but cry thinking about his future,” Balamurugan said, recalling the ordeal the family went through.
But they were determined to find a solution. As a small trader who sells ghee, Balamurugan could not afford high-end medical treatments or private guardians for his son. Bethshan Special School in Madurai was the last remnant of hope for the family. Determined to help their son, they took him to school in 2008.
Bethshan is a Hebrew word meaning “house of safety”. As the name suggests, Madurai Non-Residential Special School serves as a second home for many mentally handicapped children.
It was this school that rescued Muthukumar and made him stand on his own two feet. “The only condition imposed by the school management was that we had to ensure that our son attended all classes without fail. And thanks to them, his future is now assured,” adds Balamurugan, in a voice full of gratitude.
Now Muthukumar, 26, has been selected for the multi-tasking staff position in the Indian Air Force (IAF). R Ravikumar, founder and principal of Bethshan Special School, says he is delighted to see his student embark on a new adventure.
“Muthukumar had problems with reading, writing and comprehension. But he has improved a lot over the years. Not only has he completed his studies, but he has also obtained a Bachelor of Commerce degree and is awaiting the results”, he adds.
Although Muthukumar struggled a bit in his studies, he excelled in sports, says Ravikumar. “Muthu is good at almost all sports like running, long jump, shot put and basketball, but he showed exceptional talent in volleyball. He won a medal in bronze for the Indian team in the volleyball tournament held during the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles in 2015,” he adds.
The proud volleyball player boasts of the achievement and says it’s one of the most memorable moments of his life to date. “I love all sports, but volleyball is my favorite. I never imagined that I would go abroad, let alone the United States. It was a difficult experience, but a very memorable one”, Muthukumar said.
“Our school has been constantly training me and other students to take competitive exams and the efforts have paid off. I have been selected for the multitasking staff position and am awaiting police verification. I I could be posted to the Air Force at Sulur Station in Coimbatore. Although it’s always daunting to think that I’m going to be alone away from home for the first time, I can’t wait to be there,” says Muthukumar.
The young director is also a devoted son who helps his father in his ghee business. “Muthukumar has two bank accounts and handles deliveries and financial transactions for his father’s business. He can easily manage mobile phones,” says Ravikumar.
Balamurugan also confirmed this by saying that his son is tech savvy and supported him in running his ghee shop. When Muthukumar was recently congratulated by Madras High Court Judge, Justice B Pugalendhi, Balamurugan’s joy knew no bounds.
“During the event, hearing about the experiences of other children, who have shared the same fate as our son, we were moved to tears. I am indebted to the school management and hope the parents of all these children will be able to experience the same joy that we feel now,” he says.
“Kids with special needs will definitely shine if given proper training and exposure. Muthukumar has proven that,” says Ravikumar.
He also called on central and state governments to simplify the recruitment process for public employment at least for specific positions reserved for people with disabilities so that they have a better chance of securing their future.