(2 April is World Autism Day. FIT is republishing this story in light of it. The story was originally published in 2015.)
My child is in the Autism Spectrum. He is five but he talks like a three-year-old. He doesn’t always listen to instructions or show signs of comprehension.
My child’s low sitting threshold doesn’t allow him to stick too hard at a given task. Therefore, he doesn’t go to a regular school. He goes to a therapy school for early intervention.
What other children pick up simply from observation and imitation, my child needs to be taught.
At times, his behaviour is erratic — we try to understand why and work towards calming him down. It’s a work in progress: he’s always on the move which makes it difficult for us to wait at clinics, malls, airports or restaurants.
I wonder what he will be like when he is older.
Will his issues get resolved? Will he find friends? What will he study? Will he find a career? Have a girlfriend? What of a support system when we are gone?
If I were to dwell on these questions on a regular basis I would go insane and my child’s life would never change. And this is when I don’t have a fully autistic child. I write today in the hope of a better world for my child, where he is accepted, loved and understood. A world that you will help provide for him.
Today is World Autism Day.
For me every day is about dealing with autism and celebrating my child. But for you, perhaps today could be that day when you take a step towards understanding those in the spectrum and the ones around them.
Simply explained — autism impairs your communication skills, makes you socially awkward and overtly sensitive to a variety of sensory inputs.
There are vast differences in severity of autistic conditions. This means even within the Autism Spectrum, there are autistic individuals vastly different from each other.
Currently, one in every 88 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
At this rate, your world will soon enough be made up more autistic individuals than you could have imagined; you need to understand them now.
Sensitivity towards this has to start at the level of children. Children can be absolute monsters when they choose to be.
Make them better human beings by teaching them to accept kids who are different from them.
Teach them to include children in the Spectrum when they play in parks.
Teach them to stand up for them if they see other children make fun of them or bully them.
Teach them to be patient if these ‘different’ children take time to understand or finish a task — give them a chance to be your friends.
L.R. Knost said, “It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless”.
The Right to Education Act today guarantees my child a seat in the school your child goes to but it is you who complain that my child is odd. It is you that demands he not study with the ‘others’.
Have grace and patience. Let schools include more of every kind, so children learn to help and embrace differences. My child will bring out the best in yours too.
It is important that you understand this: don’t be sympathetic or pitiful towards a family with a child in the spectrum. They don’t need your pity—only your encouragement.
Give them the courage to embrace their child’s disability. Exhort them to seek intervention rather than hide the child behind closed doors or push him or her to be a certain way.
Help them with chores, give them night-outs, spend time with their child just playing silly games while they have a peaceful cup of tea.
Understand why they sometimes forget to be in touch, or behave erratically or do not return your calls.
Make an effort to stay connected, send them positive messages — perhaps an article that you read on a new research or a new intervention you heard about. Be a part of their journey.
Show that you care.
As employers, understand that a parent needs to work not only to make a living but also to retain a part of what is their own.
Equal opportunities at a work space will automatically come once these individuals are allowed to flower with this support.
Early intervention makes a huge difference in mainstreaming children in the spectrum.
They grow up to be as loving as anyone, as efficient as anyone and as quirky as anyone.
Acceptance, awareness and understanding will go a long way in making this world of ours the kind I want to see my child grow in.
(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.)