Swaddle Salon: What We Learned About Special Needs Education


Dec 8, 2015



We hosted an intimate gathering of people from the spectrum of special needs care. Filled with parents and practitioners, the small group immediately settled into a warm and conversational feel as Siamack Zahedi, head of The Gateway School of Mumbai, shared important tips for designing life around a child with special needs. The dialogue that followed touched on the many aspects and challenges of raising and educating special needs children. We know we came away more enlightened — we hope you did, too.

For those of you who couldn’t make it, Siamack put together a summary of his handouts below.

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Be cautious with assessment / diagnosis

  • Choose your assessment center carefully to ensure the reliability of assessment/diagnosis. (See point 1 in ‘Resource Sheet’ below for recommended centers.)
  • Focus on specific needs instead of the label. Needs are actionable, labels are not and can be stigmatizing and counterproductive for the child’s mindset towards learning if not used carefully and purposefully.


  • Acceptance is not hopelessness, denial is. Hope is coming to terms with your child’s disability and doing something about it, instead of wasting developmental windows of opportunity by living in denial and not addressing his/her needs right away. Research proves that early identification and intervention dramatically affects developmental outcomes in children with special needs.
  • Find support for yourself, if needed. (See Parent Support Groups – point 2 in ‘Resource Sheet’ below.)

Know your child

  • Understand his/her strengths and needs: It is important to document and analyze data and anecdotal evidence. But, this does not mean you should ignore parent intuition! Also, it is critical to engage in self-initiated study and research. (See point 2 in ‘Resource Sheet’ below for recommended sources.)
  • Use a strength-based approach – know your child by what he CAN DO, leverage his/her strengths to overcome weaknesses.
  • Be your child’s case-manager and take the onus of planning and facilitating his/her development. Expect yourself to be knowledgeable and expect yourself to be the primary decision-maker. Consider ‘experts’ merely as resources to use at your direction. This is not rocket science!

Establish learning priorities

  • Be reasonable when making learning goals! You know his/her strengths and needs best, now be conscious to immerse your child in ‘just right’ challenges.
  • Be clear about learning priorities – what are your end goals for schooling? And, are you concerned about learning for understanding and application or learning for test-taking? Should schooling focus on skills or content? Are these tradeoffs necessary? At Gateway we focus on developing skills, as these are absolutely necessary to have a successful and fulfilling school, professional, and social life. However, we teach these skills in the context of the content explored from different subjects. Skills are transferrable across content areas and are a prerequisite to the conceptual understanding of any discipline. (See point 3 in ‘Resource Sheet’ for Gateway’s approach to learning.)

Identify appropriate interventions and service providers

  • Be cautious to avoid fads – look for credible research, and use common sense before embarking on a specific intervention program. During an ongoing program, be sure to collect data (observation and other sources) to critically assess the effects of the intervention. But, be sure to exercise patience too!
  • Don’t overdo it! Their childhood is not merely preparation for life, it is life itself.
  • Choose the right school – make a personal visit and: (i) experience the infrastructure – you definitely want to ensure physical access to all areas of the school required by your child, a reasonable amount of space, and a sense of cheer. (ii) experience the culture – is the school administratively efficient, are all/different team members you interacted with on the same page with regard to learning and teaching, is the team collaborative within itself and with parents, etc. (iii) assess the qualifications of team members. (iv) leadership – a school’s culture and technical expertise will depend a lot on the Principal’s leadership style, past experience, and beliefs about inclusion.

Advocate for your child

At school:

  • Remember that YOU are the case manager, so take an on active decision making role in his/her educational program.
  • Push the teachers and school to make accommodations and access provisions so that your child is in an optimally inclusive environment, and offer to help the school problem-solve where required.
  • Be reasonable with demands, and base them on factual information (research, data collected by you, etc.).
  • Praise and support teachers and the school for every tiny accommodation they make for your child – everyone is motivated by sincere praise.
  • Collaboration is key – establish a non-threatening and non-burdening relationship with the teachers, as this will facilitate two-way dialogue.

With family and friends:

  • Educate them about your child’s condition, and help them see your child by his/her strengths.
  • Be an exemplar – model the mindset and manner of interaction that you wish for them to adopt towards your child.

Plan ahead

  • Be proactive – do not procrastinate when it comes to making difficult decisions and plans (financial planning, academic planning, vocation planning, etc).


Diagnosis/assessment reports

The Gateway School-Mumbai only accepts diagnosis / assessment reports from:

MDA – Maharashtra Dyslexia Association

  •  Website: http://www.mdamumbai.com/
  •  Tel : 25565754
  • Address: Maharashtra Dyslexia Association, 003, Amit Park Bldg, L J Road, Deonar, Mumbai 400088

Ummeed – Child Development Center

  • Website: http://ummeed.org/
  • Tel : 022-65528310, 65564054, 23002006
  • Address: 1-B,1/62, Mantri Pride Building, Subash Nagar, N.M.Joshi Marg, Lower Parel (E), near Arthur Road Junction, Mumbai – 400011

Resources for self-study


  • Mindset – Carol Dweck
  • Out of Sync Child – Carol Kranowitz
  • Building emotional intelligence : techniques to cultivate inner strength in children – Linda Lantieri
  • The Organized Student: Teaching Children the Skills for Success in School and Beyond – Donna Goldberg
  • Spark: the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain – John Ratey
  • What’s eating your child? The hidden connections between food and childhood ailments: anxiety, recurrent ear infections, stomachaches, picky eating – Kelly Dorfman
  • I Read It, but I Don’t Get It – Cris Tovani
  • Brain Rules – 12 principles for thriving at work, home and school – J. Medina

Expert Articles

Gateway School of Mumbai’s website is building a collection of articles from experts from around the world. At present, we have a bank of articles from Kelly Dorfman, a renowned nutritionist in USA. You can access these articles for free here.


  • devdelay.org (Resources for understanding developmental delays in sensory, motor, language, social, and emotional areas, along with suggested interventions too.)
  • childraise.com (Information about disabilities and support for children with special needs in India.)
  • ldonline.org (Overview of LD; Relevant articles and stories; Resources specially for parents, professionals; Forum to pose questions)
  • ldanatl.org (Articles on the basics of LD and relevant topics)
  • interdys.org (Online bookstore; Resources for teaching children with LD)
  • teachingld.org (Overview of LD; Resources for teaching children with LD)
  • ncld.org (Overview of LD; Current research in LD; Checklist for LD; Resources specially for parents, professionals)
  • mdamumbai.com (Overview of LD; Resources available to children with LD in Mumbai; Provisions offered by different school boards in Maharashtra)
  • dyslexia-parent.com/india (Resources for children with LD in India; Resources for ADHD)
  • adhdindia.com (Overview of causes and treatment of ADHD)
  • cdc.gov (Overview of causes and treatment of ADHD)
  • cdc.gov (Overview of causes and treatment of intellectual disabilities)
  • nichcy.org (Overview of intellectual disabilities; Resources for teaching children with intellectual disabilities)
  • aamr.org (Overview of intellectual disabilities; Resources and online articles)

Support groups and workshops

  • Join Gateway-Mumbai’s Parent Support Group (PSG) – Gateway provides a venue for parents to connect and share their experiences with one another. Such support groups, conducted on a monthly basis, help in providing informational, emotional, and motivational support to families of children with disabilities. To join, simply email Varsha Makhija at vmakhija@gatewayschoolmumbai.org and register for free!
  •  Attend Gateway’s Parent Workshops – Regular workshops are conducted for families to educate them on alternative educational practices, breakthroughs in science and nutrition, and research-based methodologies in the special needs field. To receive notifications for upcoming workshops, simply email Varsha Makhija vmakhija@gatewayschoolmumbai.org and ask her to place you on our parent workshop mailing list.
  • Avail After-School Therapies at Gateway – We provide a range of after-school services, including remedial studies (language/math), therapies (speech/ occupational/ physical/ counselling), and arts, sports and physical education. To learn more about what we currently have to offer, please write to us at afterschool@gatewayschoolmumbai.org
  • Consult with Kelly Dorfman – Kelly Dorfman is a health program planner and nutritionist with a master’s degree in biology/nutrition and twenty-nine years of clinical experience. Her specialty is developing nutrition and lifestyle strategies to address complex health problems from autism to bone loss to rare genetic disorders. Kelly has been working closely with Gateway-Mumbai’s team and parents. If you wish to schedule a phone consultation with her, you may email Varsha Makhija vmakhija@gatewayschoolmumbai.org and request her to connect you directly. Kelly’s fees range from USD $150 – 200 per session.


At Gateway, we firmly believe in the concept of neuroplasticity. With the appropriate interventions, all students can learn and there is no ceiling or plateau to their learning capacity. Given this belief, we select activities that are developmentally appropriate. The circles in the diagram refer to how we view Learning. These circles are not mutually exclusive, but rather interconnected. Each helps facilitate the other, and for learning to take place, all need to be addressed. Learning at Gateway begins with the body. Children first need to understand themselves, their bodies, and regulate themselves in order to learn. This is sensory motor development. On this sensory-motor foundation, is built social-emotional, cognitive and language development. Executive Function is the control system of the brain – it helps the child navigate through the different skills in their repertoire and determine what to employ and when. It helps one organize, plan, identify what to focus on, what cognitive strategies to use, and guides how to respond in different situations. Finally, learning is dependent on my mindset. If I believe I can learn, I will. Is my mindset one that values the process of learning, or only the outcome? At Gateway, we encourage our children to focus on process learning, highlighting that success comes from trying, rather than from getting something right.


Written By The Swaddle Team


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