Madhumati Bose is a seasoned Early Interventionist who has made significant contributions to the field of Early Intervention for infants and young children with visual impairment and developmental disabilities, including cortical/cerebral visual impairment (CVI). Her passion and dedication toward children with disabilities is an inspiration for professionals working in this sector and she is a pillar of support for families. Currently, Ms. Bose serves as the senior Early Interventionist at Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital and she is an anchor to Perkins India’s IDI team at the Shroff Eye Hospital in Vrindavan.
In this conversation with Ms. Bose, she shared pieces of her journey in the field, her inspirations, and her experience working on Project IDI.
How long have you been working in this field?
Twenty six years. I started as a special educator at Spastic Society and then I got into early intervention. I became a part of the team that set up early intervention centres in hospitals like AIIMS, Lok Nayak Hospital and Chacha Nehru Hospital.
What is the importance of doing this work at hospitals?
I strongly feel that all hospitals should have early intervention centres as that’s where doctors can refer families immediately; then there is no loss to follow up. It’s very natural for families to go to a hospital for a check up when children are born or when they realise that the child has some developmental difficulties. Parents do not feel that they are going somewhere special or their child has any special needs – it becomes like a regular check up. An early intervention centre in a hospital, to me, is inclusion that begins right at the birth of the child.
What motivated you to choose/come in this profession?
First, my son had otitis media [middle ear infection] when he was one and a half years old. It is very common in children. The doctor said that he may not be able to hear. So for that whole night I kept putting ear drops in his ears. He was all right in the morning, but then I thought of children who have disabilities, where there is no turning back and then every day you wake up to the same challenge. So that’s when I started. I began as a volunteer with Balwant Rai Mehta School. And I loved it, I loved it a lot. Later I did a course on special education and then I started working formally as a special educator.
And the second incident was of my grandfather; he was visually impaired. He was very confident, he would listen to the news and we often had discussions on current affairs. We never felt that he is visually impaired. He was a role model.
What is the first thing you do when you talk to a parent? What is the ice breaker conversation you have with your parents?
Usually the parents are very nervous. I try to make them feel comfortable. I tell them about myself, my shortcomings. I tell them, “You are right now seeing a 58 year old lady with white hair and a purple flower in her hair. Does this look normal to you? I am not normal in many ways but I am still functioning.” So I pull my own leg to make them feel at ease.
What drives you to work everyday?
I love something and it happens to be my job. I have discovered that I don’t know and can’t do anything else. I just love this. I don’t have any hobbies. This is everything for me, working with children. It’s what the parents go through 24/7. Many still don’t understand the work I do. I do it for myself and that’s the driving force for me. This work gives me immense pleasure, it keeps me grounded and away from how the world generally perceives. In fact, I strongly feel that because of my work [the stress of the coronavirus pandemic] did not affect me that much emotionally.
What is the best part about your work?
The best part is when the parents get excited to see their kids doing things for the first time. The feedback from parents, even the tiniest, is a big thing for us.
When the child makes progress and the ophthalmologists or paediatric neurologists says, “Oh we did not expect this improvement”- this brightens me up.
How do you feel about the new professionals who are just entering the field?
We can not compare newcomers of today’s generation with ours. When I joined , I knew nothing. I learnt as I went along. This generation of professionals are more focussed. They are confident about themselves.
We need to keep an open mind to share and give so as to make them comfortable. It’s important to teach first and then assess, rather than assess their performance and make judgements. Early intervention is one area which needs more professionals and only few are working with babies and young children. I think it will be good if more professionals start taking a keen interest in early intervention.
Tell us about your experience with Project IDI
The program in Vrindavan evolved over time. I was first skeptical of what exactly was going to happen and turn out in Vrindavan.I was apprehensive about how the team will do the work with their initial training. Would the team be able to do justice with the children? I had all these thoughts in my head.
However, I feel that a beginning is important. Regular mentoring and guidance is important for a program to run smoothly. And I feel that they are doing fine. I am very happy that the team is very enthusiastic, passionate and working in circumstances that are not easy to work in. They are conducting home sessions in remote areas which is the best thing. It’s an eye-opener that the team is so full of compassion and willing to learn and make a difference. They are working while facing many challenges like counselling parents to understand the program, bringing the children to the centre for early intervention support and many more. They are doing a wonderful job. The team has proven that one needs to have just the right intention and technical hand holding to do good work.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.