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Volunteering for the special school opened up the window to a whole new world for me. I made the effort to enter in it only because I had been seeing a friend’s struggle on daily basis with a special needs child. This was the world that always existed but as a child or a teenager or for that matter as an adult in my early 20s, I was never exposed to.  And many of you will agree that we never developed the sensitivity or the awareness to provide a neutral ground to such children as a part of our growing up process.   I have seen people squirm at the mention of word ‘special needs’. Special needs, an umbrella under which an alienated mini world exists.

The children with special needs not only struggle with their neurological or health issues but also with the biases that have long been ingrained in us; not so much for the disgust or the ability to accept something different but because of the lack of knowledge. And you are afraid of what you don’t know anything about. But the most difficult part of it is that most of us don’t want to know too. We are so busy in our lives that all we can spare is a strange glance and a silent whisper behind the back.

Once a parent told me that her child’s issues would be reduced to half if the people around her, may it be her teachers, the neighbors, the instructors, their family friends, developed some compassion.  Her words squeezed my heart. There was a parent who was already dealing with the stress of her only child going through a permanent condition and we as a community was making things worse for her and for that little one too.

The environment plays such a potent role in the progress of such children that the milder cases of difficulties like Down’s syndrome, Autism, ADHD can go on to lead extremely successful and content lives if they find the right people. And severe cases also become manageable.  It is a myth to believe that everyone can be understanding because the world is, after all, ruthless but the mental road blocks can be easily done away with.

I will give you a simple example.  I have seen a few kids with milder difficulties who are admitted to normal schools but not all are doing well. We as a group of volunteers tried to find out the reasons. We talked to the teacher of a very young child who was doing extremely well in the regular class. One word with her and we knew he was in safe hands. She told the other children in the class whenever they bullied him or asked questions about his weird behavior that it was his way of expressing himself. And that he wanted to be friends with them but didn’t know how to. And the result of this simple pep talk was that the children in his class started helping him out instead of pulling him down.

There is a simple yet very powerful lesson in here.  She did not do anything out of the ordinary. She just decided not to have a preconceived notion about the child and she made sure no one else in the class did so too.  The little children in that class have got their lesson in compassion very early in life and it will be normal for them to accept the differences of others later on.

How often do we look beyond our self-centered lives and try to understand what the other person is going through?  How often do we really feel the pain, the stress of others and genuinely say so through our actions? The occurrence of such difficulties is so common now that almost every person you meet knows someone who either has such a child or has a relative or a friend who has one.  Isn’t it about time to start thinking beyond the definition of ‘normal’?  Don’t you have quirks that can be abnormal for someone else?  The only difference is that their quirks hinder their progress, their development. They cannot control them and hence they are visible to the public eye.

This is Autism Awareness month. Spare a thought and a moment to learn about such neurological difficulties and try to understand why such kids do what they do.  Don’t do anything out of the ordinary; just understand that it is someone’s reality.  Be compassionate; it is the best thing to do in 2014 and every year thereafter :)

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