Autism is back in news, grabbing eyeballs. Thanks to Barfi, the disability is garnering the attention that has been overdue to it. The movie has stuck an emotional chord with most viewers. It has received its fair share of brickbats and bouquets. What has Barfi given us? It has given the parents, caregivers, professionals belonging to this ever increasing community of autism, a captive audience.
Unlike many disabilities recognized by the government of India, autism has yet to be recognized. It is not even mentioned in the census. Such is the terrible plight of children and adults on the spectrum. To many, autism is an alien Subject. There are an alarming number of children being diagnosed in India. Yet, one doesn’t see them in the general population; one never hears or speaks about them. They do not even have physical anomalies. The general public can easily identify with the sufferings of a hearing / visually impaired individual. But many wonder, what is Autism? It is so very difficult to accept that a very “normal” looking child has a major lifelong disability.
People on the Autistic spectrum are incapable of making themselves heard. It is one disability that everybody agrees unanimously, need a lot of support and encouragement, but it is one that is struggling to be heard. People on the spectrum have heightened or lowered sensory perceptions, impaired social, communicative and abstract thinking skills.
What is heartwarming is how the institutions, families that cater to the requirements of this disability have rallied around to offer unflinching support. Most of these institutions run on the will power (one has probably heard of muscle power, money power) of the management, dedicated parents and a support staff. Early interventions are known to work wonders. Over a period of time various teaching methods have been evolved to teach these individuals. Some children on the spectrum are gifted, some excel in music, math, computers,to name a few. The Challenge lies in identifying the hidden talents, give them intensive training and help them lead a meaningful productive life. Many a times it is the intuitive skills, faith and perseverance of the families involved that have bought out the potential in their children.
The children and adults on the spectrum need long time, intensive therapies. In addition, many of these children need dietary intervention and, medications. Abroad, some of the insurance companies provide cover for the therapies; there are many state sponsored programs. In India the costs have to be borne solely by the families. These families lead their lives by the simple rule of thumb! No day is typical. The institutions are also wanting in resources in terms of infrastructure, man power, and financial aid. There is an acute shortage of respite services. They need employment opportunities.
Autism is huge, and it cannot be captured on a canvass, however big it may be. There goes an old proverb “It takes a whole village to raise a child, and more importantly an accepting community to raise a child on the spectrum. Beyond the celluloid clichés of the movie Barfi, there lives in a community in itself coping and dealing with autism, not bemoaning, not grudging, but whole heatedly supporting and spinning dreams of gold for their little ones. I watched Dustin Hoffman’s Rain man in college, and back then; it was just another movie for me. Today, with a child on the spectrum, things are totally different for me. Please do lend your support to this community, either with your words, action, time, money. Support Autism.