How native Indian games help kids with special needs

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girls playing hopscotch

In a new approach to developing everyday skills into children with special needs, the Madras Dyslexia Association (MDA) has experimented with supplementing usual occupational therapy with native Indian games, to help with their development.

Last month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had brought to focus an important pedagogical tool, that is playing with toys. This successful and continued practice of this pedagogy by MDA opens a unique line of thought and practice to practitioners working in the child development field.

MDA has adopted traditional games in their remedial techniques for teaching special children. The MDA special educators have witnessed significant improvements with the use of traditional games, which are vital in developing the pre-skills for all children. The improvements include areas such as the children’s overall focus, fine motor skills from playing some of these games.

“Most of the approaches used with children with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) are western. In Chennai, one session of occupational therapy used with children with special needs can cost between Rs 800-1000. Parents often find it difficult to afford all the recommended number of sessions,” explained Swetha Chandrasekhar, who developed this concept for MDA.

Children with learning disabilities also lose easily while working with an occupational therapist after a while, and this is why native traditional games like top and thread (‘lattu’) and hopscotch can supplement their therapy and keep them interested.

According to MDA, significant improvements were recorded in key areas such as social-emotional development, sensory motor development, communication skills, problem solving, concept building skills perceptual readiness for learning, listening, reading and writing.

india traditional top

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According to D. Chandrasekhar, President, MDA and a distinguished alumnus awardee of IIT Madras, “After a long day of school, children with dyslexia come for remedial classes, and then they attend therapy classes, after which they’re tutored at home and they finish their homework and whatever little time left, they’d like to spend it in front of the screen or playing against it.”

“Therefore, at Ananya (their fulltime remedial centre) when we make our individualised education plan, we try and add in a pinch of a traditional games in order to tweak their pre-skills, which are vital for the academic development. When working with these traditional games, we realised that they were naturally multi-modal and multi-sensory and usually cater to more than one skill. These games can be easily adapted to suit the strengths and the needs of each child.”

Some of the practices and games and their benefits include hopscotch, which helps develop balance, gravity control and focus, among other skills; kite flying, which helps develop large motor movement, muscle tone, spatial orientation; and mancala which helps develop numeracy skills, fine motor and grapho-motor skills, midline crossing, attention and focus.

These games do not require any expensive props and everybody could play them regardless of age or gender. Thus, they’re accessible and fun while helping children at the same time.

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