Thursday, June 21, 2012

Asha – A Hope to Fly

I was taking strides to my mission of this year, I am a technology volunteer for ASHA - Academy for Severe Handicaps & Autistic. I am working with Bhavna, Shashank, Sunny, Vamsi, Jansi, Tanu, Raju, Emil, Satwik, Manav and Vedas and 80+ other students who make this school a home of their imaginations.

These children are as normal human beings as you and me are. They have got their share of excitement, love, pleasure, inquisitiveness, agreements and disagreements like you and me. So what if they don’t communicate like us, they have their own unique ways of expressing themselves which is often termed and perceived as ‘difficult’. I beg to differ though. These children exhibit a group of developmental brain disorders, collectively called as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The term "spectrum" refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment, or disability, that children with ASD can exhibit. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, but others are severely affected. ASHA is helping and training children diagnosed and placed across the spectrum.**

First and foremost fact to learn about Autism is - Each individual with Autism is unique and what makes them furthermore special is their extra ordinary abilities which could range from exceptional visual, academic or creative skills to great sense of humor – amazing skills that have gifted the world with some of the most renowned scientists, artists, advocates, writers, linguists, painters, sculptors, poets, educators and we would never miss to mention the creator of Pokémon - Satoshi Tajiri!

Research says that about 40 percent of autistic children have average to above average intellectual abilities. No wonder, many people on the spectrum take deserved pride in their characteristic abilities. That is probably the most important realization and reflection that we - as a society owe them.

I have no hesitation whatsoever in acknowledging that a lot (if not all) of the mundane usability or functional testing work that I have come across in the software world could be brilliantly done by some of these students, with much higher precision, because these kids grow sharpening the edges of perfection and precision like none of us. A special child in my computer class makes it a point to remind me every time he passes by, that the right place for the spectacles clenched over my head is actually on my nose and the piece of dupatta (a shawl) is better suited around my head than wrapped around my neck! I have been surprised and touched by such non verbal and non-eye-contacting interventions registered by them to the minutest (often ignorable) details, while we are still wondering about the early intervention therapies to diagnose their social and communication disabilities! I couldn’t help but to ask myself - do we really need to intervene the natural developmental path they are up to? As I explored further, I learned that all of us have actually gone through a natural yet humanly intervened model of evolution that was devised to keep track of our developmental milestones. For these children since the developmental milestones are usually forced and hard-to-meet, the early intervention techniques help speeding calculated steps towards these mileposts.

While Asha and many such organizations do their best to embrace Autism, it’s the time for us to put our best foot forward by staying aware, then acknowledge and accept Autism: 

As Parents: Most crucial part is to understand and acknowledge that your child has no limits of learning and excelling, so arresting him/her in the boundaries of your perception of their skills would be unfair on your part. Introduce them to colors while allowing them to hold the pair of paint n brush and you will find them filling never-seen-before colors to everything which otherwise looked drab and achromatic to the other spectators like you and me. Please notice the color of the butterfly and elephant in these pictures.
As a Society: I honestly feel we have a clear and better space for these children in the mainstream of social existence. It’s only the matter of finding & including them in. If we as a society could remove the obstacles of unawareness, lack of education, myths and negligence, new opportunities will emerge reflexively.

As a School: Regular schools must collaborate with special education centers and participate in improving the behavioral learning patterns and abilities of the special children. This could help find the possibilities of mainstreaming the special children to regular schools, fostering a broader sense of acceptance and action.  Seclusion could never be a solution, it’s often a choice imposed on these children and their families which we need to strike off. Like any other children in your vicinity, they like a creative company, a learning fair, a reader rabbit and a master Sam. What does it indicate - a need of collaborative & synergistic education. Children are better explained to and best understood by their peers in the group and nothing should deprive them of this synergy. A common child has a lot to learn by a special one and a special one is always at a giving end. Schools are the best places to nurture & celebrate this synergy. So bring them together, make them feel equal and complemented.
As You & Me: Most of us have taken pride in being socialites, friends, employees, engineers, bosses, businessmen and women, bureaucrats (and the list goes on…). Can we not now consider it a time to be volunteers, or possibly we already are without a realization! So let’s join the two ends of You and Me and make a Tech-Volunteer club that offers help in understanding and implementing technology for special education. Anyone who knows what Information technology means to the global development, should be a potential evangelist in special education. If you know what Apple iPad is to you or your kid and browsing restlessly to know how Windows 8 surfaces for us by the end of this year, take a moment to imagine what the fundamental technology of a touch pad could bring to these children of special skills & tremendous potentials. 

If we can shift our focus from in-born disabilities to the nurtured capabilities, we will introduce to this generation a new world of possibilities that we are not yet aware of. As someone says, if they don’t learn the way we teach them, let’s teach them the way they learn. (more... my next blog)

By the way, the second picture  in the first collage is a portrait of mine drawn by a very special child and the smiley is drawn on an iPad by another special child who was asked to express how did he like coming to the school. I wish to become this special to the world.

** Attributions:


  1. I am so proud of you to be able to dedicate yourself for this..with all the distractions around .. :D
    Well written as always .. all ur blogs, in case i have not said that a million times before ..

    Also, I sincerely wish that may you find happiness and joy more than you can contain .. in whatever you do.. !

  2. Can't thank you enough! Distractions what you call them have been the sheer pleasures that I have always drawn my strength from and they actually charge me up for a better focus. Friends are those angels who love distracting yet helping you become a better archer… wonder why am I moving back to the city of angels and archers!