Updated: Jul 14, 2020
Compiled by Tejaswini Thirtha
“Morning shows the day!” It is the one phrase that best describes 21-year-old Siddhartha. From a child who would hide in his room when guests came home, Siddhartha has grown up to be a highly independent and outgoing adult, which has made maintaining “social distancing” in times of COVID19 that much more challenging. But, for his mother, Arpita, this is just another challenge that she’s set out to face head-on.
The dynamic mother-son duo have been living in Bangalore for the last 6 years taking each day as it comes, and braving one issue at a time. Simply put, this is not his or her story, this is ‘their’ story… one that they have created together.
It’s important to detect the signs early…
I will never forget the day when we visited a friend and his wife took one look at Siddhartha and said: “Yeh toh autistic hai (he is autistic).” We were in Kolkata. Siddhartha was all of 3 years then and studying in a regular, international school. His milestones were late. He was disinterested in studies and school activities and was extremely sensitive to texture. I thought that he was being stubborn and difficult but never connected it to autism. Looking back, I regret not recognizing the symptoms sooner. If we had, we might have done things differently perhaps.
Inclusive education may not be the right choice for these children…
We shifted Siddhartha to another school where the teachers were trained and cooperative. Even his classmates were fine although at some point, children with special needs start realizing that they are different from the rest. They notice that others are better at most things and gradually develop a low self-esteem. This makes them do things, the wrong things, to seek attention that further complicates their development. It’s like being in a room where everyone is speaking one language, except you. You are bound to feel inept.
Which is why, it’s important that right from the start intellectually challenged children be made to interact with others with the same / similar problems. Inclusive education doesn’t necessary make these kids feel included. At this point, I decided to come to Bangalore and get Siddhartha registered for a Cognitive Retraining Therapy, which had a more focused training module.
It’s tough managing older children…
As Siddhartha grew older, it became more and more difficult for me to manage him but a few counseling sessions helped channelize his energy in the right direction. Moreover, Mitra for Life came into our lives at the right time. The events that they conduct, e.g. trekking and talent shows are a good outlet for children like Siddhartha. Before COVID19, Siddhartha was working in a nearby petrol pump as an observer. He got quite involved and was enjoying the process. I was hoping that he’ll start working and settle down this year. Unfortunately, the pandemic happened and lockdown was imposed. My parents were visiting and got stuck here, and Siddhartha was initially not very pleased about it. Now he’s got used to them. I had to also cut down on his mobile phone usage during the lockdown period. I started to take him for short walks and talk to him more – about the virus, the current situation, staying safe, social distancing, and practicing hygiene, apart from telling what to watch and what not to watch on the phone. Counsel him is all I can do really. I can’t monitor him 24x7. This has been the most difficult phase for me and I was fortunate to have had a great support system and to have received the right advice at the right time. The friends and connections I made here in Bangalore are my backbone!
We have literally evolved together…
Moving to Bangalore was a big decision for me as well since I had never been on my own before. I have been brought up in a very protective environment and it was the first time that I was away from my family and comforts of my home. Thankfully, the initial training sessions did wonders for my son, who was already into his teens. So, I decided to stay on. He is preparing to complete his 10th. I got him a cycle so that he could go to these classes by himself. Suddenly, I had time on my hands and the doctor suggested that I start doing something to keep myself productive and busy. That’s when I joined his wife’s school that was working with learning disability children. I started interacting with other parents, shifted to an independent home and made friends over the years.
As Siddhartha grew, I grew and as I discovered myself, I discovered more about him. When I look at these kids, my issues seem trivial. I was a very impatient woman but managing Siddhartha and interacting with other children like him has made me very tolerant, more humane, compassionate, empathetic and non-judgmental. In a way, I have learnt a lot from him too – about swimming against the tide and finding happiness in small things. Truth be told, this has been a journey of my son and me becoming independent, together.