13 January, 2014
Anu finally agreed to take me to the autistic school. It took some persuading from my part but she finally agreed. She was worried if I would be able to soak everything I see without going crazy. Anu had been telling me stories of the school and the kids for quite sometime and I was really curious to see things for myself.
I have never been in the company of literally crazy or autistic people. The only crazy person I know is the society watchman. He is a Nepali and eats green and red chillies for lunch, one after the other. If you talk to him he talks softly, you tell him to speak louder, he goes even more softer and giggles. When he gives me parking instructions he makes sure that I can barely see him. I still have to figure out where he stands. I get really worried, I will run him over someday. What if the fool is lying down right behind my car? He speaks Nepali, Hindi and English all in one scentence, he hardly ever makes sense. Actually the man who hired him as ” THE WATCHMAN” should be crazier than him.
Anyways, I went with Anu to the school. She warned me that the kids can get violent sometimes. They throw chairs, they bite and they might slap you if you annoy them too much. Well, I told her that I would be ok but the first day was a little petrifying. The principal of the school welcomed me with a smile. She gave me an introduction about autism and how things worked in the school.
The scientific part of her explanation, I didn’t get much. All I could sum it up to was that, there is lack of neural development and there are abnormalities in the way they socially interact and interpret things they see. Autism is not diagnosed till the child is three years old. The child looks normal most of the times. If he is autistic and also mentally retarded then you can see some physical changes in him. Most of the times parents keep these kids hidden away from the world. Though research suggests that if autism is detected in the earliest of stages the child can be treated in the best way possible and there is a better chance of him being useful to the society. Though still there are too many social stigmas attached to it and parents are paranoid of putting such children in special schools. Even today the mother is blamed for giving birth to an autistic child. It is absolutely unfair, both the parents are responsible. The reasons for the birth of an autistic child ranges from exposure to excessive smoking,drinking, bad food habits,pollution, pregnancy after 30 years of age, presence of an autistic child in either the mother or the fathers past seven generations, etc. Autism has no cure.
After talking to her she told me to just observe kids in all the classes. There are atleast 40 kids in the school, ranging from the age group 3 to 16. I went into the first class having absolutely no clue of what to expect. As I went in the kids looked at me, some smiled, some yawned, while one of them said ” Namaste” at least ten times without a break. One of them must be about 6 years old he was constantly banging his head to the wall. The teacher was constantly pushing him away. When he saw me come in he came running to me and hugged me. He took both my hands and kept them tight around his head. His name was Shubham. The teacher told me that he constantly needs some kind of pressure applied to his head. While I held Shubham I saw Arnav sitting in the corner of the room, holding on to his ears and constantly humming something. One of the kids hit the girl besides him really hard. The teacher in the class took him away. While the girl started laughing. Another kid took his pant down. Maushi came running and took him to the toilet. There was commotion in every class. A kind of commotion I had never experienced.
After spending some time watching them, I went back to the principal’s office. She asked me how I felt. I told her I was a little overwhelmed. She asked me if I would still want to come and spend time in the school. I said I would like to if I can help. She smiled at me and told me to come for three hours everyday. She just said this before I left, ” Patience and love is all you need.”
I have been assigned a class to take care of. The class holds ten children, I am in charge of five. The moment I went in the kids kept looking at me while I kept looking at them. We were new to each other. Adwait came running and held me, that kind of made me feel better. He at least didn’t throw the chair at me. Adwait was stuck to me for the next 2 hours of class. I didnt mind he was so bloody cute. He couldn’t speak a word and he didn’t respond to anything I said. He just smiled and held my little finger. The other four were Akhilesh, Alister, Diya, and Atharva.
It is extremely difficult to hold their attention for too long. Alister was the only one who spoke out of the lot. He didn’t make too much sense though. I tried to make him say his alphabets and he was with me till the letter ‘p’ then he asked me, ” how many ‘p’s do you have? ” Before I could answer he was pulling Diya’s hair and she was pushing him away. Diya looks like a princess, she is that pretty. I tried to play ball with her but she just couldn’t hold the ball. All she did was smiled. There was an occasional ‘Chi’ and ‘Mama’ that came out of her mouth but that was it. I just couldn’t get her to say an ‘A’. Akhilesh was the singer. He just sang, words didn’t make any sense. He sang without a care in the world. I would try to make him say ‘one’ he would look at my mouth,roll his eyes and start singing. Atharva was constantly crying for the first half an hour. I gave him a ball and asked him to throw, one throw and he stopped crying. I played with him for ten mins. He wouldn’t catch the ball, just throw it. Autistic children can repeat an action for a million times. Atharva could keep throwing the ball all day. I tried to make him say A, all the time while playing with him. I never got an A.
Two hours passed by and time just flew. It was time for lunch. The children can’t eat their own food. So every teacher has to feed two kids in lunch time. I got Akhilesh and Atharva. Akhilesh was singing now in Atharva’s ear and I got the first smile of the day from him. It was like someone finally got Akhilesh’s joke. Akhilesh went bonkers with his singing, after that. Everyone around us bursted out laughing. Lunch was peaceful. I fed both of them and they ate whatever I gave them to eat.
It was time to go. I kissed the kids good bye and I think they didn’t like it too much. Autistic children are not too comfortable with physical proximity. I am going to remember that. I have overheard a lot of stories in the time I have spent here. There is one kid Sahil, who was thrown in a dustbin and was picked up by an orphanage. The orphanage then realised that he was autistic too, so he is being sent to the school. Another kid’s mother ran away after she realised that her child was autistic. The father got a paralytic attack soon after ,which made him unable to move. The grandfather has Parkinson. He gets a pension of 10000 rupees every month. Half of which is spent on the school’s fees, the house is run in the remaining money. I think this quite literally is the mother of all tragedies.
When I got out of the school today. I wasn’t really happy. There is no sense of achievement here. You have no idea if you have been of any help to the kids. We in the real world are so used to putting in an effort and getting a desired result. In their world results may be seen today or you might not see them till the time they live. There is no guarantee. I feel so angry at the fact that life can be so unfair for some of us. It is just heart breaking.
I don’t want to give up just yet. I know something in me is changing. I don’t see it yet and I can’t point on it either. I just know that I am going to learn somethings here which I will not learn anywhere else. The change I’m sure is going to be positive.
Tomorrow I am going to make Alister say the alphabet till Z. I will try my best to make it happen.