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OT Travels to India Bringing Training and Receiving Connections

By Shoshana Shamberg, OTR/L, Ms

President of Abilities OT Services and Seminars, Inc.

www. AOTSS.com / info@AOTSS.com

Baltimore. MD


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 special needs.

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.