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The worst period in a parent’s life is when the child falls short of parental expectations. It is hard to digest that your child may have a problem. Unwittingly, you are overtaken by waves of guilt. “I know many parents who have been unable to handle the situation and have gone into deep depression, thereby losing time in focusing on and training their child”, says Madhvi Kulkarni, mother of a mentally challenged girl.

Mental retardation is a condition of sub–normal intellectual and social development. It is often not recognized in children until they start school and lag behind. Most are not unusual in appearance. Only some can be identified early because they have trouble sitting, talking or walking.

“For parents, the first hurdle is acceptance it. Most waste time crying over why something extraordinary had happened to them. They need to change: Your child is special, not a liability. Caring for the retarded at home requires great patience and understanding. Counseling has helped many parents. However, one has to graduate beyond the cocoon called “Home” and help our children cope with mainstream society, a society that is usually hostile and insensitive” says Chitra Singh, mother of a normal child. “When I see mentally challenged people, I feel sad and sympathetic towards them. I know one should not have pity or compare them with others, but when I interact with them, I feel depressed to see them the way they are – humans like us and yet so different”, states Shilpa Javeri.

There are many who feel like her. “It is unfortunate, unknowingly they may harm another individual without knowing what they do. Some are hyper–active, they are on their toes, destructive and self–injurious”, says Sachin Joshi. Many among us feel depressed to have a mentally challenged child at home. But you will be surprised you have more than one reason to be proud of.

Aarti Menon, a mentally challenged teenager from Mehrauli, would like to own an airplane and pilot it! Asked whom she loves the most, she says with a smile, “Ma, Papa, Abhi, and Ba (mummy, papa, her brother Abhi and her grandmother)”. She hardly mentions anybody outside her home. They are her world. But she is willing to forge her way into an unknown world.

Jayant Kakkar, a mentally–challenged child in Kalkaji, New Delhi, is petrified of heights but wants to become a doctor and a police chief so that he can inject and kill all those who harass and torture him! He says he does not like playing outside his house and hates the neighbors’ children. The reason, they laugh and throw things at him. Very few of us are like Ekta Yadav of Model Town (a posh residential area in the northern section of New Delhi). She says, “I treat them all like any other person because I want them to lead a normal life and have comfortable surroundings. I do not show them pity but encourage them”.

“Other children do not understand or treat these kids in a special manner. They tease them and never try to interact with them”, says a depressed neighbor of mentally challenged child Rani Thakkar. The need of the hour is to evolve a healthy support system.