Of course, Bollywood movies Taare Zameen Par, Black, and Barfi have given us a glimpse into what being autistic really means. But it is much more complicated than that. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people.”
Dr. Shayama Chona, founder-president of Tamana Association (estb 1992) and a Padma Shri (1999) and Padma Bhushan (2008) awardee, tells us, “We have three centres and out of that Tamana Autism Centre — School of Hope is dedicated only to the autistic. We have 500 autistic children. We start the services as soon as 6 months to 1 year and this is called early intervention. This is when parents bring their children to us and they watch their behaviour and learn how to cope with them. There are different sets of children coming – six in a lot and we have 1:1 child-teacher ratio for them.We have the world’s best lab called the Perception Lab, where the kids are given therapeutic intervention. This is for the youngest group.”
Dr Chona adds, “They are here till the age of 18. We have an integrated set up here where they can be with regular children. We giving free education to those who can’t afford it and also to those who are integrated group of children. When we send our kids to regular schools, the whole setup is more inimical than progressive. So here we also have regular children of all ages, who actually become teachers as well buddies of the autistic children. They are pursuing their education through the National Open School which is such a big advantage.
Our autistic children have started baking, can do jewellery making, measure dal and pack their masalas, can dance, singh, play outside, do skipping, understand gardening, can work with computers – they are very honest with their work. They can work with computers.”
Mumbai-based SPJ Sadhana School‘s principal and special educator Fionika Sanghvi says, “Autism is not a disability. People with ASD see the world from a different angle. At SPJ Sadhana School, we deal with these people as having different abilities and focus on their strengths and abilities.
Interventions such as Experiential Learning, Sensory Integration, Brain Gym and Auditory integration therapy are provided to help them cope with their difficulties of dealing with environment and people. We teach them the way they can learn. People with autism were born to stand out, they are outstanding and so they are special.”
The theme for this year’s World Autism Awareness Day is “The Transition to Adulthood” that focuses on issues faced by autistic children during their transition into adulthood. Comments Chona, “This is the most difficult subject. Attraction to the opposite sex is not so noticeable by our psychologist but what we are noticing is they (autistic children) have urges. How to get them into games, so that they can pass this time, which is very difficult to handle by the psychologist. Fortunately, we have two foreign educated counselors. Parent counselling is also important. If they had a very good education as an autistic child, they start understanding these. They want to be something. They want to be recognised. They suddenly get annoyed, which needs to be controlled. We try not to do with medication but with therapy. We have the largest number of therapeutic services.”National, News