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‘My child is just different, he doesn’t have a disease’

‘My child is just different, he doesn’t have a disease’

Viraj Singh has ADHD and dyslexia but is slowly on his way to making his parents proud

Being called names, being ridiculed and being bullied have all been part of this teenager’s life for quite some time now. But he survived it all, with a little bit of counselling from a professional and the strong love of his family, comprising his mother, father and elder sister.

Sixteen-year-old Viraj Singh is no ordinary teen. He was born different, but it hasn’t been an easy journey at all for him or his parents.

Viraj seemed absolutely fine as a little child and his developmental milestones were also met. So, the family had no idea that their lives were going to take an about-turn in a few years. “We did not suspect anything was wrong with Viraj as he had always gone to a mainstream school from preparatory onwards,” says Divya Arora Singh, his mother. “But in Class 3 his teacher had some concerns after observing him for quite some time. She told us that our child was often wandering out of the class. She also said that it seemed like he faced difficulties in reading and writing. According to her, he could be autistic and have ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] and also seemed to show traits of dyslexia [a disorder that involves difficulty in learning to read, interpret words or letters and other symbols].”

Divya, an HR professional, lives in Greater Kailash 2 in New Delhi with her family, including husband Vishal (who runs a travel agency) and children Viraj and Vasvi (who is two and a half years older than her brother).

The Singhs took Viraj for a series of tests and check-up with a child psychologist, who confirmed that he indeed had ADHD and dyslexia, issues that are common for children with autism.

ADHD and dyslexia
Viraj Singh with mother Divya Arora Singh

“I had friends whose children were autistic, so I was familiar with the issue,” Divya says. “But it is just that one is overwhelmed when it comes to one’s own kid. My husband, on the other hand, took a lot of time to accept it and understand the situation. But we as a family tried everything to tackle this. For starters, I gave up my job and started focusing all my energy on helping Virat deal with being a special needs child — even neglecting my elder child Vasvi so I could give him all my attention. Luckily, Vasvi never resented it and today the siblings share a very close, tight-knit bond.”

Unlike other full-blown cases of autism that make it difficult for a child suffering from dyslexia and ADHD do not affect general intelligence. So, they can be controlled and regulated, and the child can study in a mainstream school with extra help from trained professionals like special educators. However, it is still a neurodivergent condition.

Because his was a milder case of autism, Viraj studied in a mainstream school and later used the services of a special educator and also a remedial teacher who gave that extra help needed to cope with the conventional modes of education.

From Class 3 to 7, Viraj studied in school with help from his special educator and after that he managed to study independently. “The first school that Viraj went to was very insensitive to what was happening to him, so we had to move him out to another,” Divya says. “The second school was very supportive and helped him in every way. But here too, there were still those few people who made life difficult for our child. In the initial days, as he was still settling down in his class, the Hindi teacher would laugh at him for not being able to learn the language and made unsavoury remarks all the time.

“Then the teacher in Class 4, despite knowing that children like Viraj are sensitive to loud noises and cannot bear them, would scream a lot at him, so he would refuse to go to school. That was a difficult phase for us and later he was removed from that class and a remedial teacher would help him. There were also periods where his classmates, who on realizing that he has special needs, would bully him, rough him up or call him names, and that really affected Viraj. But luckily, he pulled through.”

Divya feels that people in general and parents in particular should be more sensitive with children who are ‘different’ and teach their own children accordingly, as it can affect the morale of special needs’ children already battling a host of issues to fit into a ‘normal’ world.

“Just because it’s not happening to them, they are totally unaware,” Divya says. “I used to have parents come up to me and say they are so sorry that my child has a disease and needs the help of a scribe [in schools with an academic set-up, all children with special needs are provided a scribe if they have writing problems] in his exams. It was painful to keep explaining to people that he’s just ‘different’ and doesn’t have a ‘disease’.”

With time, life seems to have eased a bit for the Singh family, who now look forward to better times ahead.

After a long period of struggle, Viraj — a Class 12 commerce student now — is slowly on his way to making his parents proud. “Viraj is studying commerce but without mathematics since he has a condition called dyscalculia too, which is a disability in maths,” says Divya. “It would be nice if he would take up hotel management as he could work in that field. But he’s very stubborn and will, of course, decide himself.”

And after ten years, Divya too has picked up her career again — with a real-estate firm this time around.

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