Beyond Happy

By Amee Nagraj, advocate, SRV leader, and Sanjana’s mother

“A happy experience always snowballs into something more.” – Amee Nagraj

It has been a fulfilling journey to be called a talented youngster. When I, Sanjana’s mother, first attended the SRV course, it was like, “For the first time, I have words to articulate what I feel and what I want!”

For the longest time, the frustrations were mounting with the so-called traditional, over-the-desk, closed-classroom therapies. They were all just so unnatural! When it came to teaching concepts of money and time, I could never understand how they could be taught over the desk, in a book. For those with intellectual disabilities, learning a concept is hard enough and generalizing it is an even harder challenge. Lived experiences can truly help us understand such abstract concepts, and that’s how they should be taught.

The SRV lens showed me a brighter path to walk on. With the help of my coach from NACD (National Association for Child Development, Utah, USA), I implemented a home economy system where all family members paid for meals, and Sanjana was the banker. This soon became a real-life Monopoly game at home played with real money.

Then came the question of building skills and teaching concepts around them. Sanjana’s interests revolved around art, craft, and vanity – she was, after all, a teenager! Sanjana and I also started making natural handmade soaps at home, first for personal use and then to gift to friends and family. Learning math and other pragmatic concepts while fulfilling a valued role as a “Soap Maker” and young entrepreneur became easier and more fun.

Sanjana as soapmakerTwo years later, when Sanjana turned 18, the family was looking for ways to celebrate this milestone so that Sanjana could understand the meaning of being an adult. Those were COVID times with limited resources. After consideration, an online shop called the Blue Elephant Soapery was launched where she could formally share her product with the world. The product was refined till it became a high-quality artisanal soap bar. It could now compete fairly and squarely with other brands in the market, and more importantly, its imagery would also rub off on its maker. Care was taken to ensure there was no labelling or “pity buying.” It was a wonderful way to feel grown up. She now had a business card and a website and had even started earning.

Sanjana as baristaA happy experience always snowballs into something more…for she now has the confidence. Her other big interests were coffee and food. She trained and certified as a Barista at Breads & Banter Café. Soon, she was in demand in her community. Her orange coffee was famous, and people regularly stopped by to enjoy it. 

For me, it was a heartening change to see my daughter as a person with a valued role, even several really unique and strong valued roles and I was deeply moved when I read this note in appreciation:

“I’ve been drawn to Sanjana’s positive energy and smile ever since I met her. When I heard she had trained as a barista, I specially made a trip to taste her coffee. I ended up having two cups that afternoon, not because I wanted to make her feel good but because the coffee itself was so good. That the appreciation of her talent brought her much joy was a wonderful bonus. May she continue to shine, and I look forward to my next brew.” – Papa CJ

Indeed, the happy experience of envisioning a positive and possible future for my daughter has led me towards a deeply satisfying place of knowing that Sanjana is a full and valued contributor to the world.