Manju Kaushal, now 53, runs a community known as Specko Brainny since 2006 which is based in Vadodara. The community focuses on well being and life skills development of intellectually disabled children by providing them a comfortable space and helping their parents by providing insight and help. Born in the city of love Agra, Manju Kaushal says she is always in for fun and she grew up in such a comfortable and caring atmosphere. After she got married, she started living in Vadodara. She says fun is a must. Post-graduate in Economics and Finance, she believes that we never stop learning and that she will always continue to learn. “It is not an organization, it is rather a community run by parents and I took the initiative to create a group where parents and their children who have intellectual disabilities can get together, enjoy their time together and learn together. It’s about opening up and accepting your child rather than hiding them from the rest of the world. These children often face difficulties when other people don’t accept them or mock them. They have difficulty in understanding many things. But here, they are free to do what they want without any restrictions. It’s the time when their smiles shine brighter than the stars. What more do we want?” she says while sharing her personal experience and what made her think of starting Specko Brainny.
When she found out that her child had intellectual issues, she was confused about how to deal with it. With very little exposure to mental illness and intellectual problems, she felt uncomfortable while telling anyone about her child’s disabilities. Searching for professional help she realized that Vadodara had some of the most experienced doctors of India. She used to get consultation instead of her son and later followed the instructions to teach him and to take care of him, as her son felt dizzy in the morning and spent nights sleeping because of the medication. The doctor asked her to change her approach to dealing with her son’s issues and told her that they are going to be how we mold them. Hiding him from the world would do no good to him. This changed her outlook and she understood that her love and care can actually help her son develop abilities to live along with other people and also to discover his special talents. Working on this, she found out that many parents were like her, uncomfortable with discussing disabilities. One day, while waiting along with other parents at the hospital, she initiated a talk with them and asked if they would like to have a get together at her place along with their children. This was the beginning of Specko Brainny. From the gatherings to tea parties, from indoor to outdoor activities, and from picnics to workshops this group got more and more parents joining in and now there are thousands of parents who are part of this community to get guidance and insights through which their children can learn life skills without feeling the pressure of comparison from the society. They taught many parents to open up and to love and help their child while they met frequently for various activity sessions. The group faced problems with admitting children in regular schools and so they researched where their children could get to learn foundation skills and get a proper diagnosis. The group held a seminar with a representative of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan from Gandhinagar for awareness of basic guidelines that regular schools could follow while admitting intellectually disabled children. Many representatives from the Schools of Vadodara and parents were present for the seminar. The aim of this seminar was to help children socialize and develop the basic foundation needed and also to teach other students to accept them and get along with them. They had many talk-shows with doctors regarding topics like Genetic Disorders, Psychology, Awareness, Adulthood, and Puberty. They started spreading awareness in society through road shows and activities. She wanted all these children to get a chance to live like others while developing skills and being independent by doing things that they can do by themselves with little to no help or supervision. As her son grew older, she wanted to cater to his needs and so she thought of doing it for all the children along with their parents. They learned about various vocational courses. There were government’s courses that helped them develop skills and find their area of interest. ITI Gandhinagar held a talk show for Autism and their courses and showed a lot of support in Vadodara. The group asked for help at petrol pumps to let the children work there for a few days. She wanted to see if children can work with other people. The people at the petrol pump were also very supportive and provided assistance. To her surprise, she saw that the children were actually enjoying and were able to work there without any conflicts or concerns. They started doing packaging work for various companies and making kit packaging for marathons. This taught them concentration and patience. Everyone was assigned a particular task and they found it very interesting. A few children have been recruited at pharmaceutical companies in the packaging department. She says, “I love the nature of acceptance which I find in younger generations. They are more open to issues which older generations found difficult to discuss. They are very helping and volunteer whenever we plan trips, workshops, and outings. Our children also engage in making Rakhis and Ganpati idols, we put them for sale and they get their portion of income. They also know how pricing works! We were astonished when a child said that they should sell items at an affordable price so that everyone can afford them. That day I felt that the outcome of all the work and efforts we put in can be seen in these children.” They continue working for packaging and make rakhis and Ganpati idol with mud clay. They celebrate every festival; let them know the stories behind the festivals. It’s like play way method learning. Manju Kaushal got a lot of support from her parents, her brother Dr. Mukesh Gupta, her elder son Aman Kaushal and her relatives. She believes that whoever she is today is because of her god gifted younger son Dev. It’s for him that she started making efforts and it’s also because of him that she decided to start Specko Brainny.
The community sorted out all the problems that came in their way, and they got a lot of support from people when they were looking for help. Many parents had issues adjusting and so, groups were made according to their children’s interests, age, intellectual level, and the city they live in so that they can seek affordable help without traveling much. Around 5000 parents are consulting Specko Brainny now and the group continues to focus on their aim, that is, their beautiful children with beautiful minds. She wishes to help all the parents who are clueless about what to do or have less exposure when it comes to disabilities just like she was once. Her message to all the parents is that children are like the idols we worship, we don’t expect the idol to move or to eat the offerings but we show all our love and respect towards the idols. Likewise, we should not always keep expecting from these innocent children and understand that they are not to be compared, they are unique individuals and so they can be different and learn at their own pace. Acceptance and kindness is the key.