OT Travels to India Bringing Training and
By Shoshana Shamberg, OTR/L, Ms
President of Abilities OT Services and Seminars,
www. AOTSS.com / info@AOTSS.com
Internet teaching brought me to an enlightening, inspiring, and exotic on-site teaching experience
in Mumbai, India in January of 2010. One year ago, Dr. Vandita Gupta, an OT living in Mumbai, India emailed
Abilities OT Services and Seminars, Inc. (AOTSS), requesting internet training on sensory motor strategies
for continuing education to increase her professional skills. Vandita’s private practice focuses
on children with sensory processing disorders including ADD/ADHD, SI issues, reading and writing problems, and autism. Obtaining
training for OTs is difficult in India and often traveling for CE is the norm. As a mother of two young
children, she did not want to travel; preferring internet learning which she could do at home at less expense.
At the time, AOTSS trainings focusing on Sensory Motor Interventions and Strategies consisted of
only onsite, 2-Day seminars. The learning in this training includes Brain Gym, Irlen Method, kinesthetic handwriting, vision
training exercises, multiple intelligences, Bal-A-VisX and low-cost assistive technology with additional mentoring via the
internet after the seminar. , Vandita insisted on a similar training via the internet and was willing to
pay for personal mentoring which would include. She paid me to develop a personalized mentoring program
that would include all topics in the 2-Day seminar. This began a one year relationship and learning experience which blossomed
into the Sensory Motor Strategies on a Shoestring Budget Internet Training and Mentoring Program.
I sent her training manuals and a box of materials, which a relative traveling from the USA to India
brought to her, eliminating the high cost of international postage and handling. From these materials,
along with recycled and low cost items she could find in India, Vandita created treatment materials of excellent quality and
creativity, as well as, learned and used the methods of intervention. She received specific lessons via
email with ongoing instruction and guidance, and excelled in using the skills learned, quickly observing positive results
with her clients. To document her work, she sent me original treatment plans and pictures of her creations
via email, documenting how these were used in her practice and the benefits. Vandita’s ability to
translate emailed lessons and instruction into practical, creative, and effective strategies for her clients was inspiring
to me, her mentor. New options for client treatment became so successful that she requested I come to teach
others in Mumbai, India.
Negotiations and preparation for the trip from the USA to India took 5 months of planning seminar
details and marketing to local professionals and parents to obtain enough participants to make the trip financially feasible.
Judging from the excellent post seminar evaluations from 27 highly trained professionals who participated, the relationship
is evolving into an ongoing one, with another multi-disciplinary training in the planning for next year. Participants
came from many different cultural and religious backgrounds, experience levels, special and regular education settings, private
practice, and disciplines (OT, SLP, psychology, business management, educators, administration and parents of children with
Prior to the seminar in Mumbai, I traveled to southern India’s Kerala region to participant
in therapeutic yoga training at an ashram, spiritual Hindu center, with over 400 people from over 30 countries. I learned
the health benefits of breathing in a special way, as well as, the use of Yoga exercises for muscle strengthening, range of
motion, stretching of muscles and joints for release of tension and limitation, and relaxation techniques for stress management
for the mind and body. I learned interesting massage techniques from highly trained auervetic medicine
massage therapists and doctors. I traveled through many low-income villages and communities traveling to
and from the ashram, where people live in small shacks, with few modern conveniences like running water and electricity, and
one dollar can feed a family for a day. I saw infants, children and adults with horrible deformities
and major disabilities begging for money on the streets, living where accessibility and independence is not feasible due to
many social, economic and environmental barriers including ancient stone and concrete architecture, narrow dirt roads with
no room for pedestrian movement or widening, and extreme poverty I never witnessed in the USA, even during my 25 years working
in inner city ghettos.
The good news is that awareness of educating special needs children and employing adults with disabilities
is growing, as India becomes increasingly more affluent and educational opportunities expand, especially with the help of
dedicated and highly trained OTs in India. Some of them received work experience in the USA after their schooling in India,
and returned to work in India, bringing a fearless public awareness about OT, civil rights for people with disabilities, and
the benefits to society of rehabilitation and independent living support systems. They are spreading the word about the need
for trained professional and community supports and cost effective accommodations in work, home, school and community settings.
I met OTs involved in advocacy for OT services telling me their success in the last few years in obtaining
media attention. Special education is not mandated by the government, as regular education is, so this must be raised from
private sources in order to happen.
While in Mumbai, I was hosted royally and housed by Vandita’s family and the family of her
husband, Vitkas, in two very different sections of Mumbai. One lives a mixed area of middle and low income Muslim, Christian,
and Hindu cultures and the other mostly upper Middle Class Hindus. In this affluent neighborhood I witnessed
cows walking the street freely as sacred animals rarely killed for food, but used for their milk and dairy products. The
Indian food cooked in restaurants and homes was exceptional and vegetarian, making it very easy to be kosher during my entire
trip. In fact I found it very easy to be Jewish in place where there were no Jewish people since spirituality and respect
for those of other faiths is part of Hindu society and religion. I discovered the existence of an ancient Indian Jewish community
in Mumbai, called the Benai Israel, but the location was too far to walk to synagogue. Due to two community
weddings there was no place for me to stay within the community but another other Shabbat I would have gladly been hosted
by strangers in the Jewish community. At Vandita’s parent’s home, I was able to have a peaceful
Shabbat with ongoing attention and support for my special needs as an observant Jew. Generosity, compassion
and a universal spirituality and respect were major qualities of Vandita’s family and their hosting of me for over a
week. We shared our religions, cultures, family, professional insights and experiences with each other,
her network of friends and therapists/educators, and her family of 3 generations, which included her 10 and 13 year old children.
Of course I went sightseeing, both into the magnificent Mumbai city center with museums, ornate architecture and gardens,
the harbor and beach and the site of the Mumbai terrorist attacks which killed many Americans. Traffic
jams and crazy drivers of cars, buses, trucks, taxis, and motorcycles was frightening to my western experience living in the
much smaller and less congested city of Baltimore, MD. In India it is common to see a mother holding infant, a small child
and husband all riding together on a motorcycle without helmets in city traffic or on bumpy, dusty, narrow country dirt roads.
Seeing this was quite a shock, especially having worked in physical and cognitive rehabilitation with TBI, spinal cord
injuries, etc from vehicle accidents.
Security is very tight which gave me a secure feeling. There is a travel advisory
warning from the US customs office for all Americans traveling to India after the December
25, 2009 attempted suicide bombing on an airplane in the USA, as well as, due to the after shock of the Mumbai Massacres
last year. I prayed at the sites of those terrorist attacks in hopes of helping to continue the healing
for all families affected by the tragedy and visited a memorial inside the Taj Hotel made of a wall of falling water with
the names of the victims. Indians are still shocked and feeling the tragedy which shook the world
for 4 days as Arab terrorists tortured and killed innocent people, especially foreigners and Jewish people.
My OT host for my last day in India, Mugda, lived in the USA for 8 years as a traveling therapist
and returned to Mumbai, her ancestral home and family, where she married and began a multidisciplinary therapy practice. She
owns the building housing the clinic and hires a speech therapist, physical therapist, and psychologist to work as a team
with special needs children and their parents and medical/educational support systems.
One of the most inspiring events of my trip was a visit to the SPJ Sadnana School, a privately funded
special education program for elementary through high school aged students with autism, ADD/ADHD, developmental disabilities,
dyslexia, and many other disabilities which prevent them from being included in regular education environments.
The students are happy, productive and achieve skills in both academic, life skills and vocational skills that were
previous never thought possible by their parents and society. Parents must participate in training and
support the educational program in order for their child to participate in the program.
Teachers and therapists are provided ongoing training in innovative and low-cost interventions and
learning programs, sending employees oversees when necessary for training if it will help students to learn and function better.
Mentoring and support are ongoing for professionals, students and parents. The administrators are
role models, demonstrating selfless and unconditional love, caring, and professionalism rarely found elsewhere in the world.
In my 35 year career in education, I rated this school with the best I have encountered in my travels and job experience
in the USA. Student vocational, self care, social, emotional, behavioral and academic skills are
carefully evaluated and supported each and every step of their participation at Sadnana School. Sadnana administration paid
for over 10 staff members to attend my training. One could see their professionalism demonstrated. Sadnana
School’s ability to accept students of all economic backgrounds depends upon private donations. They
do not turn away students if the parents cannot pay and many parents join the staff as volunteers and then become employees,
encouraged by the administration to obtain professional degrees and training.
Students participate in an half hour of Brain Gym exercises and other physical movements prior to
beginning their academic program daily and later in the day as well. They use Brain Gym exercises embedded within their academic
program when they began seeing behavioral and academic improvements with these simple neuromuscular and sensory motor exercises.
Their vice principal is an Irlen Method screener and Certified Brain Gym Consultant, having to travel
to other countries to receive here training.
Please help if you can by sending even a small donation to support their amazing work for children
and young adults with disabilities to become productive members of society with the maximum level of independence. All contributions
are tax deductible and they are a non profit with all funds utilized for the benefit of students. The Sadnana School’s
building is simple yet practical, but the program is built on commitment to quality programming, professionalism, standards,
and increasing knowledge, using low cost traditional and innovative techniques requiring minimal equipment such as Brain Gym,
Irlen Method, auditory training, sensory integration, therapy, vocational skills training in crafts, office and computer skills,
food/hospitality services, textiles/sewing/printing, diamond sorting, and many other vocations. They insure that students
who are capable of taking national educational tests get accommodations in order to participate and succeed.