“She said get him checked for autism. AUTISM! Does she even know what she’s talking about,” I sobbed aghast, as I held G tightly.
He was too shocked to react. I suppose he had never seen me break down like I did that September, in 2012.
And so begins our story.
A reputed school’s counsellor, a young girl in her early twenties said this to me in a flat, unemotional tone when we met her for an admission interaction for their Montessori Program. Madhav was 2 years and 11 months old.
I had no idea what it meant to be autistic. Isn’t one born with it? Oh wait, that’s Down Syndrome right? That thing they check for in the first trimester?
So how does autism happen? Is it a regressive condition? Is it being mentally and physically challenged? What does it actually mean to be autistic? I googled.
What is Autism?
Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. The diagnostic criteria require that symptoms become apparent before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize; how this occurs is not well understood.
Did that make sense?
What’s neural development or derailment anyway?!
I am a self-proclaimed wiki of sorts but this was beyond me. We had no idea what this was or who to talk to. G was as rattled. We didn’t know what was being implied. Her voice was still echoing around my head
“Get him checked for autism... AUTISM… AAUUTTIISSSMMMM!!!”
I would often look at Madhav and wonder. Was he alright? He was happy, free spirited, reasonably social and excitable around people. Hands & legs, ears & eyes – all normal. He was saying words too, and he could sing rhymes.
And he is so good-looking! Don’t children with disabilities have a certain type of look? So what exactly did this Counsellor see in my child to label my child Autistic!
First things first. We found someone who knew a thing or two about this. I called a very dear family friend who is a Special Educator in a reputed school in Delhi and narrated what just happened.
She was very comforting and said at the very outset that no one can say whether a child is autistic in a 15- 30 minute interaction. She told me that it was extremely unprofessional of the school to have said that and one can’t run tests on children before they turn five anyway.
Having said that, she added, “But be watchful of certain red-flags, there must have been a reason why the school counsellor told you so”.
And so began another journey. Now we were looking microscopically at our child. It just changed the way we saw him. The red flags they were called!
(Mugdha Kalra is a former TV Journalist now happily grappling with a five-year old in the autism spectrum. She writes about her experiences in her blog.)