My First Experience with Special Needs

Individuals with special needs are people first & they have different abilities, as they say, “if you judge a fish by its ability to run, we will never get anywhere” – Try & focus on their abilities rather than disabilities.

My first experience with Special NeedsMy first significant encounter with special needs was about 3 years ago, to clarify, it was not like I didn’t know what special needs was prior to that – having worked in several MNC’s for over a decade & after being part of multiple community projects, I had a decent understanding of special needs however none were as significant as this.


Primarily, I was an IT consultant and I was also pursuing my hobby as a photographer & during this time I got an opportunity to work with a girl with Down Syndrome. My wife, Swathi Vellal who is a special educator, spoke to me about ‘G’ and asked me if I would be interested in taking photography lessons for her. She mentioned that ‘G’ has a certain eye for detail, angles, and colors & she likes taking pictures on her phone, so why not try and take it to the next level.


In the beginning, I was a little apprehensive – I myself had no formal training in photography and had no experience teaching photography, let alone teaching an individual with special needs but we decided to meet her anyway. Prior to our meeting, I made sure that I did my homework and tried to read up as much as I could about special needs, down syndrome, and the Do’s & Don’t & I was pretty confident about breaking the ice but our first meeting was nothing close to what I had expected. It took us about 20 minutes just to get to a face-to-face interaction & that’s when I realized that no matter how much we read about special needs or interact with multiple people, every individual with special needs is different.


The following sessions were no different and at one point it felt like I wasn’t able to do justice to what was expected from me. I would come back home after my sessions with her with this feeling of “I don’t know what I am doing & I don’t know where I am going with this” and it took me several sessions to understand that this is how it is going to be and that ITS OK.


I would prepare for a 60 – 90 minute session, but a lot of times, the sessions wouldn’t even last for 20-30 minutes, I realized that this is going to be a slow process & I should just keep at it, In fact, there were times when we wouldn’t accomplish anything at all & I would end up feeling bad but the parent would reassure me that it’s ok & that we will have better days in the future. I used to always respect ‘G’s parents for that. I would often wonder, If this is how I feel after a one-hour session, as parents, what would they be going through, but I know, they are always proud of their daughter and her never-ending accomplishments, as am I.


This is my takeaway from my initial experience with special needs:


Any form of education requires patience, with special needs; you need a little more patience. Getting their attention is the most challenging part, as educators or parents’ one should always understand what interests them or what puts them off, every little detail matters. There is a reason behind every behavior even if you feel there isn’t one, we should just try and understand the pattern.  Preparation is the key, but being able to adapt is even more important. We have an opportunity to learn something new during every session but we need to be open to it.


Every Individual with special needs is unique in their own way and we should never generalize or put them all under one basket and finally, the most beautiful understanding I have gained is that Individuals with special needs are people first & they have different abilities, as they say, “if you judge a fish by its ability to run, we will never get anywhere” – Try & focus on their abilities rather than disabilities.



Raghunandan Ranganath

Co-Founder, Trustee
Ishanya India Foundation

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