Ruchi Dixit, co-founder of Sankalp Pediatrics in Rajasthan, India, met Rituraj when he was just three-and-a-half years old.
In addition to having very low vision, the young boy, who wasn’t enrolled in school, couldn’t communicate and had little control over his body movement as a result of cerebral palsy. His family didn’t know what to do.
Over the next few years, Dixit would provide Rituraj with physiotherapy, work with him on building communication skills, conduct visual stimulation exercises and more. Thanks to her dedication, today, a now teenage Rituraj has more control of his body, can communicate and he’s enrolled in a mainstream school, learning alongside peers with and without disabilities.
“Rituraj’s needs were met at Sankalp… they could make out that he was a bright child who understands everything,” says the boy’s mother, Sonal. “Today, he loves socializing, travel, attending birthdays, shopping, events, music and wants to be a part of everything going on around him.”
One of the reasons for this success was Dixit’s professional background.
A 2013 graduate of the Perkins International Educational Leadership Program, Dixit spent nine months at Perkins learning to work with children who have multiple disabilities. This was huge, she says.
“In our city, there was not a lot of awareness of how to treat children when there were multiple issues,” she says. “I learned from Perkins, we’re not always dealing with individual impairments. We need to be talking about a child’s whole life.”
That wasn’t the only major change in her approach to work following her time at Perkins.
On top of learning to support kids with multiple impairments, Dixit developed the skills necessary to work with very young children, which has enabled Sankalp to provide care for more families in need. In fact, when Dixit helped launch Sankalp in 2010, they were mostly seeing just a handful of children between ages 10 and 12. Today, Sankalp is a large organization, regularly serving children of all ages, including as young as three months old.
“This is all because I went to Perkins and I learned a lot about working with the youngest kids,” she says. “Kids like Rituraj, who we met when he was just three-and-a-half years old.”
Since graduating from the ELP, Dixit has also been able to expand the scope of her work. Today, she’s using what she learned to train her peers as well as the families they serve, covering everything from occupational and physical therapy to daily and independent living skills to communication, behavior and more.
“We’re doing individualized programs now,” she explains. “Even before, we might’ve been working one-on-one with a child or family, but the exercises were a lot of the same. Now, even when we’re working in groups, there’s one-to-one attention, and it’s different for every single child.”
Launched 100 years ago, the Educational Leadership Program provides intensive training to special educators from all around the world. Today, more than 300 ELP alumni are working across nearly every continent. And while every program graduate’s focus is individualized, attuned to the needs of their communities, they all share the same goal: to empower children who are often overlooked and excluded from the classroom.
“Graduates aren’t just expert educators, though they are that,” says Marianne Riggio, Director of the program. “They become changemakers. They work with school systems, governments, families and healthcare providers to improve the quality of services and reimagine for the better the ways in which they’re delivered.”
In that way, the Perkins effect is felt every day, all around the world.
“It’s made a huge difference in a lot of people’s lives,” Dixit adds. “It’s continuing to make a huge difference for so many children.”