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Sushama Kirtikar

Wear it anyway you want: as a shiny medal pinned strappingly on a crisp lapel, a glossy sash around a svelte figure, or a limp label across a frowning forehead. I am referring to us Indian Americans being stereotyped as ‘the model minority.’

“Indians have been able to overcome stereotypes to become the U.S.’s most successful immigrant group”, writes Vivek Wadhwa, a columnist in “Are Indians the Model Immigrants?” The question is, is this epithet applicable? Is it a badge of honor that enhances who we are? Or has the tag become an albatross around the neck for us? Are we indeed the model minority, or is it just a well-spun myth?

Let us start by examining the phrase itself. It could refer to a group of people who lead model lives. It could refer to those who gain accolades through success. It also could refer to those who ruffle no feathers. A ‘model’ student in the class is often one who applies herself diligently to her studies. Then again, it also could be he who colors within the lines, remains submissive, obedient and unquestioning. If the erstwhile title refers to being docile, not too many would be happy to own it. If it refers to success, there would be a rush of takers.

So, we can lay claim to success with certitude. Everywhere you turn there is another award being conferred upon a fellow desi. Numerous factors go into calculating the formula for success: rigorous education, stringent work ethic, starting from the bottom up, entrepreneurial spirit, ability to integrate flawlessly, resolute values, financial prudence and altruism. Commendable. In the long run, one must also ask how many of these successful people are truly happy. The true litmus test would be if being a motel owner, a CEO of an IT company, a top administrator of a hospital, a renowned film maker, a decorated physician, a dean of a college, a top notch journalist, a Booker prize winner, or the latest elected official equates happiness.

Let us not forget the hidden minority within the minority. What about the thousands who toil unsuccessfully at menial jobs, the stifled homemakers, the elderly who feel like they are existing in a guilded cage, the survivors of domestic violence, the teens who run amok with drugs in their pockets, and the licentious young adults? Some might gasp with indignance at this suggestion. Yet, all of these are an increasing statistic of the Indian American scene. Stealthily, they get swept under the rug like some insignificant irritant.

If the title of ‘model minority’ serves to motivate us propel ahead, may we embrace it with pride. Fame and glory always feel gratifying; temporarily, that is. If it turns us into braggarts, then it needs to be discarded hastily. If in all honesty we cannot accept the title as an immigrant population as a whole, we need to question it. It rightfully applies to many of us, thousands perhaps. By the same token, it is an anathema to several of us. It is a mockery of the life led behind some closed doors.

My sense is it is a glorified image of the immigrants who arrived during the second wave from India, in the ’60s and ’70s. The thousands who have come since with lesser education and training are getting lost under the laurels of the initial bunch. It is unfair to them to have to live under the harsh glare of a false neon sign. If we decide it is an anachronism today, as it no longer fits the image of the fluid immigrant population from India, then we must stay authentic to our identity and correct the misperception before it comes to haunt us. After all, we are people of integrity. Aren’t we?

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or e-mail at

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Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran

Many terms are used to describe emotional, behavioral or mental disorders. Currently, students with such disorders are categorized as having an emotional disturbance, which is defined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as follows:

“... a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child's educational performance.

(A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory or health factors.

(B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.

(C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.

(D) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.

(E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems."


The causes of emotional disturbance have not been adequately determined. Although various factors such as heredity, brain disorder, diet, stress and family functioning have been suggested as possible causes, research has not shown any of these factors to be the direct cause of behavior or emotional problems. Some of the characteristics and behaviors seen in children who have emotional disturbances include:

Hyperactivity (short attention span, impulsiveness);

Aggression/self-injurious behavior (acting out, fighting);

Withdrawal (failure to initiate interaction with others; retreat from exchanges of social interaction, excessive fear or anxiety);

Immaturity (inappropriate crying, temper tantrums, poor coping skills); and

Learning difficulties (academically performing below grade level).

Children with the most serious emotional disturbances may exhibit distorted thinking, excessive anxiety, bizarre motor acts and abnormal mood swings. Some are identified as children who have a severe psychosis or schizophrenia.

Many children who do not have emotional disturbances may display some of these same behaviors at various times during their development. However, when children have an emotional disturbance, these behaviors continue over long periods of time. Their behavior consequently signals that they are not coping with their environment or peers.


The educational programs for children with an emotional disturbance need to include attention to providing emotional and behavioral support as well as helping them master academics, develop social skills, and increase self-awareness, self-control and self-esteem. A large body of research exists regarding methods of providing students with positive behavioral support (PBS) in the school environment, so that problem behaviors are minimized and positive, appropriate behaviors are fostered. For a child whose behavior impedes learning (including the learning of others), the team developing the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) needs to consider, if appropriate, strategies to address that behavior, including positive behavioral interventions, strategies and supports.

Students eligible for special education services under the category of emotional disturbance may have IEPs that include psychological or counseling services. These are important related services, which are available under law and are to be provided by a qualified social worker, psychologist, guidance counselor or other qualified personnel.

Career education (both vocational and academic) also is a major element of secondary education and should be a part of the transition plan included in every adolescent’s IEP.

There is growing recognition that families, as well as their children, need support, respite care, intensive case management and a collaborative, multi-agency approach to services. Many communities are working toward providing these wrap-around services. There are a growing number of agencies and organizations actively involved in establishing support services in the community.


Families of children with emotional disturbances may need help in understanding their children's condition and in learning how to work effectively with them. Help is available from psychiatrists, psychologists or other mental health professionals in public or private mental health settings. Children should be provided services based on their individual needs, and all persons who are involved with these children should be aware of the care they are receiving. It is important to coordinate all services between home, school and therapeutic community with open communication.


Greene, R.W. (2001). “The explosive child: A new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated chronically inflexible children.” New York: Harper Collins.


American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

You can call 202-966-7300 or visit their web site at

Resource for this article came from the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY).

Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran can be reached at

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