When I read Roshni’s post on Dyslexia, I was elated beyond belief at how overcoming difficulties and achieving something big in life was not just a dream. Hearing about Einstein and Da Vinci having issues and making it big is what one keeps hearing but what you really want is to see someone among you making it to the top and it gives hope to many others that life beyond these difficulties is possible.
Today I want to tell you the story of a little chap who I meet regularly on my volunteering sessions. A cute 4 year old boy who travels 45 minutes every day to attend remedial classes (special education, sensory inegration) because the area he lives in does not offer him the facility he needs to live in this world and conquer it. He has mild autism.
When I see him, I always wonder how everything just falls into place for us but why not for him. Making friends, playing with them, learning from the environment, expressing that you are angry, happy, sad comes naturally. But for him, it is not. You have to teach him every life skill- be it how to express ‘I don’t like you’ or ‘I am happy’ to ‘what is it that I am feeling’. Imagine you are feeling sad from inside but you don’t have words to say it – you will wilt, get frustrated and resort to other ways to vent out that throb in your heart. In case of him, it comes out in the form of screaming, endless flapping of hands, and running around in circles. He lives in a world I can only wish to understand someday.
When I met him for the first time about 2 years back, I handed him a car and he didn’t know how to play with it. We had to teach him not only how to play with the toy but also how a real car runs on the road. Why? Because he never noticed the car on the road when a simple bottle of water in his hands or the lone waving tree on the road side offered more fascinating sight.
Colors- you understand them right? But when we showed him a yellow ring, he thought that something circular was called yellow. The thinking is unilateral and it takes many months to put across such abstract concepts. Don’t you take this for granted? I did until I saw the children who couldn’t make any sense of it. It does not mean that their intelligence level is low, it means that they have difficulty understanding intangible concepts.
He has come a long way since then but the innocence is as intact as it was the day I met him for the first time.
As I started training my naïve mind for the needs of these children, I realized how the grass root level work was pretty less. We face problems at every step. I have seen many cases where the kids have mild autism or mild form of Down’s syndrome and they can easily be integrated in normal schools but still schools just deny the admissions. Forcibly, parents prefer not to disclose the problem which is possible only in case of milder cases but it does come to fore because of the peculiar behavior. And then starts the tug of war between school authorities and parents which most of the times parents lose.
I have seen them going to special educators in the afternoon after school when all other kids lie down on the bed and watch TV or probably just muddle around in AC. For these small 3 year olds, 4 year olds traveling distances as far as one hour is not a big deal because their areas are not equipped to handle their needs. And I used to think working hard had a different meaning for children. They never complain but does that mean they don’t want to?
Then, there are very less special schools. Those that are there are majorly doing it for money. They literally harass the parents and parents can do very little about it. Reason- there is no one else who is providing the support.
We talk about so many social problems plaguing the system, I just wonder when the attention will be turned to absorbing these kids in to the system so that they can live a life of dignity where neither parents have to hide their problem nor are the children subjected to ugly stares.
That cute little chap and many like him are working hard to understand this world but I know in future the blame will lie on us for not even putting a bit to understand theirs.