Published: 16th April 2019
After watching her daughter struggle, this mother in rural Karnataka is helping hundreds of speech and hearing impaired kids learn to speak
In conversation with Sujatha Reshmi, we find out how her daughter inspired her to start a school of speech therapy for deaf and mute children from poor families around Karnataka
Imagine how difficult it is to live in this world if you can't speak or hear? Sujatha Reshmi from Vijayapura (Bijapur), who was inspired by the experience of raising her hearing and speech-impaired daughter, started a residential school called Sapna Training Centre for Deaf and Mute Children in 2008. Her singular aim was to provide speech therapy to hearing and speech-impaired kids from poor families.
Born deaf and mute, her daughter, Sapna Reshmi inspired her in more ways than one. Sujatha's constant effort to help her daughter go to a normal school is a story by itself. Now a PUC II student in the Arts stream, Sujatha is thrilled to see how well she is doing. She says, "She could express everything only through actions. One of the doctors told us that there are two ways to communicate with such children. One is sign language and the other one is speech-language intervention or what people call speech therapy. I wanted my child to undergo speech therapy as it sometimes becomes difficult for others to understand sign language."
Food for thought: Sujatha Reshmi teaching the sign used to ask if the person has had food
Sujatha chose speech therapy after she went to Mysuru and met doctors at the All India Institute of Speech and Hearing. Having seen therapists using different techniques to make her daughter speak, she explains, "Though speech reading or lip reading is considered simple, since my daughter was mute they first tried to stimulate the voice box and generate the sound. It took us not less than a year to generate it. In the next step, children are taught letters in whichever language they prefer to speak at home. After this, they are asked to observe the lips so that they can learn to say different words. Initially, the children are taught only two letter words which are easy for them to grasp and repeat."
When we asked about the time required to complete this process, she explains that it can take a long time, "It's not an easy task and does not happen in a year or two. Even I thought that my daughter would learn to speak in a year's time. But my assumption was wrong as it took over three years for my daughter to learn to speak and start reading lips. In those three years, my daughter had learnt to say only two words. Sometimes it was very disappointing for us that she was not responding to the therapy quickly We need to say the same words 20 to 30 times until they learn to identify and pronounce the same. But our experience has taught us that does not happen overnight and it is a very slow process. Though I am a BSc graduate, I enjoyed learning new things along with my daughter. I felt like I was going back to school."
Letter reading Before the child learn to pronounce the words, they are taught to pronounce letters of a particular language
After coming back to Vijayapura, Sujatha continued working with her daughter. Every day she would say new words and Sapna would try to repeat them. Sujatha then trained her neighbour's daughter who was just five years old and also had a hearing impairment. When she was successful in training the neighbour's child to speak, everyone in the neighbourhood appreciated it and encouraged her to start a speech therapy class for deaf kids.
For deaf and mute: If the child is mute then speech therapy is used to stimulate the voice box
From having two students, the strength grew to 10 and then to 25. When the numbers increased, Sujatha hired some trained teachers and therapists. At present, there are over 62 deaf and mute children who are undergoing speech therapy. Children who come from far away cities and town are provided with a free residential facility. Apart from this, she has also started classes from I to IV with permission from the Education Department of Karnataka so that kids can learn Math, Science and Social Studies.
The key to these therapies being effective is that they should start at an early age. Sujatha explains, "When I started the speech therapy for my daughter, she was five and that is too late for any child. Therefore, I conduct awareness campaigns to tell parents that they should start speech therapy for children when they are two. Not just deaf and mute children, it can be used to train late talkers or children who stammer when they speak."