Be a friend to your autistic kid

Like any other parents Saurabh and Mitali Shukla were expecting their toddler, Arjun to lisp "mama-dada" or give them a tight hug.

Sadly, it never happened. They were hurt but not alarmed. But when baby Arjun didn't speak a word even after his third birthday, the confused parents got worried about their child's behaviour. They took Arjun to numerous specialists where they received the earth shattering news that their child was autistic.

The Shukla's weren't prepared for the real world of autism; a world which can be dark and frightening. It is a lifelong neurological disorder with no present cure. It affects social, communication, and behavioral skills. They remember accepting the situation and consoling a heartbroken set of grandparents whenever they said "Why us?"

"Autism is a hidden disability. If a child was in a wheelchair, we wouldn't expect him to walk across them room to sit in his chair. Yet, adults expect children with autism to integrate and understand language and social cues," says Shyama Chona, educator and Founder of Tamana, an NGO, which works towards spreading awareness and help train autistic children become independent and self sufficient.

While the disorder is not rare, the majority of autistic people in India have not been diagnosed and do not receive the services they need. "There is a lack of awareness and misunderstanding about autism. It is difficult for children with autism to integrate and understand language. We make assumptions that autistic children perceive the world in the same way we do. Pleasant sounds, sights, and textures may not be pleasant to one with autism," says Purnima Jain, an expert who handles autistic children.

Many parents today are tutoring autistic children at home. Like Monimala Bose, who, along with her husband, has taken up the task of home-tutoring their autistic 5-year-old daughter. "We've attended workshop, researched on the Net and thought it would be best if we acted as teachers for our child," says Bose, adding, "it's a painful and slow process, but our child has taught us a lot. In fact, she has taught us ten different way to approach mundane things in life!"

Chona's advice to parents who are afraid to face reality: "An autistic child is like a mystery novel. You have to read one page at a time. If you try to skip pages you spoil the fun. It won't help to hide your kid's social behaviour disorder."

The main ingredient to making for special children is to surround them with unconditional love, patience, and understanding and remembering that these individuals are one among us.

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