‘I love painting... I love colors... anything to do with them,’ says Vikram Menon, a student currently pursuing his grade 12th from Holy Cross Special School, Thane. The school has been a pioneer in the city, imparting wholesome education and development to children affected by Autism, Down’s syndrome, primary or mild mental retardation.
"In our school, we don't believe in distinguishing between children. Our children are special and we are proud of each one of them. Classifying them and putting them in different classes on basis of their deformity will be unjust. Thus they are put in different classes based on their artistic and qualitative abilities," says Divya Gohil, a teacher associated with the institution.
While Autism is a generic disorder caused due to neurological discrepancies; it cannot be called as a mental disorder. The simple reason being, the people or children suffering from autism are different from those suffering from other mental disabilities. Sometimes due to low information processing levels in their brains, these individuals experience impaired social interactions. It is characterized by impaired verbal and nonverbal communication, phobias and also by repetitive behavior.
Till 2013, complex mental disorders strikingly similar to Autism like Aspergers syndrome, pervasive disorder and childhood disintegrative disorder were recognized as different subtypes. With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, all autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum disorder.
The disorder is more common in men than in women and according to a recent research, it affects 1/150 individuals. The causes are varied just as the various types. The main factor causing autism is the default fragile X syndrome. For most people the X chromosome contains a Fmr1, a brain protein gene. However sometimes (in cases common in autism) the chromosome appears broken, twisted or plain fragile. In some other cases it is associated with agents causing birth defects while in some it is associated with affects of external factors during early stages of pregnancy.
Researches have also proven that proper dosage of folic acid at the time of pregnancy helps reduce the risk of autism. Children with autism may show signs of depression or loneliness at various stages in their lives. Their inability to adjust with social norms and lead a 'socially correct life', often leads to people neglecting, chiding or mocking them. These individuals are called special because they process things in a special way. In most cases they are smarter than most of us. Their memory power is extraordinary too.
Today, there are over 10 million children in the country suffering from autism, however it is the most misdiagnosed disorder in the country.
“They love order and discipline. This love for schedule is probably what makes them less appealing to our society,” jokes Arti Sarvaiya, PR coordinator with Shraddha- autistic to artistic, an NGO providing a livelihood opportunity to these special angels. Shraddha was started off at a garage by Dr Radhike Khanna in the year 1997 and today it has grown into a well-established setup in a BMC school at Mahalakshmi, Mumbai.
“We work here out of will and dedication. The satisfaction that this job provides us is immense. The salaries may not be fancy, however there is more to life. Working with Shraddha, dealing with children for over 11 years has taught me patience. Its made me a better individual, a better mother if I may say so“, says Arti.
The NGO encourages autistic adults to lead an independent and dignified life. The workshops conducted at the centre help the individuals learn various skills like sticking, plastering, moulding, pressing and folding; things which would otherwise seem difficult for them. These skills help them create wonders.
“Our children make bags, holders, boxes, candles, envelopes, paper lanterns and much more. They finish their primary education from SPJ Sadhana school and then enroll for these workshops. They also participate in the marathon annually. We train them, sell their products and help them gain remuneration. They are now proud earning members of their families,” Arti says. Numerous clients in and around the city support Shraddha by purchasing their products regularly. Corporates support too, but the outreach could be better, Sarvaiya says.
Primary wholesome education for autistic children is essential. This forms a basis for behavior in later stages of their lives. Regular and systematic schedules help them function as normally as possible and this helps them adapt better to society. Most autistic individuals become independent with time, traveling and doing chores by themselves.
An autistic mind is much more colorful and vibrant as compared to others.
“There are people who mistreat these kids; parents who find it difficult to cope with the stress of raising an autistic child. All they need to do is give it some time, patience and love. Before we admit a child into our school we make it a point to understand the child and the parent well. We cannot cure them completely but with time and care, these kids do turn out to be assets and truly special to society," says Gohil. She has been employed with HCSS since 6 years and each day has been different she says.
“The kids are extra talented. Some of them are brilliant in their academics, while some in extracurricular. We encourage them for sports and art competitions and our kids shine every where they go," Gohil states.
The number of autistic individuals is on a constant rise and there is an incessant need to understand, encourage and motivate them more. Support will always be needed, after all the cause is such a special one.
Here are a few videos explaining the phenomenon better :
Here is a video of an autistic child speaking about her life: