By Tejaswini Thirtha
Devesh was a little over a year old when he travelled to Hong Kong with his mother. His father, Hanumantharaju, was posted there on a project. Devesh seemed extremely distressed throughout the flight and even after getting home he stuck to his mom all day. At the time, of course, they thought that it was probably because of the new surroundings.
The family returned to India soon after and over the next couple of years, noticed that all of Devesh’s milestones were delayed, be it rolling over, speaking or walking. But the doctors suspected nothing alarming so, when Hanumantharaju got an opportunity to temporarily move to Ireland for another project, he took my wife and Devesh along. It was in his play school that the teachers suspected that something was not okay. Devesh wouldn’t mingle with the other kids and couldn’t perform some basic physical activities. This time, Hanumantharaju decided to cut short his trip and come back to India to get Devesh assessed thoroughly. They took him to a premiere institution for evaluation and after a couple of sessions, realised that Devesh was autistic.
From changing jobs, changing houses, changing their lifestyle to changing their daily routine... Devesh’s parents have done it all. Today, Devesh plays the Tabla, can sing, plays sports, and has his own terrace garden. Here’s taking a closer look at their journey...
Acceptance – The First Step
One of the biggest challenges parents of intellectually challenged children face is accepting reality. It is only when they accept their child’s condition, which is unfortunately permanent, that they will do everything to make his/her life as normal and meaningful as possible. Only then, will they be able to willingly make all the necessary sacrifices. And that’s exactly what Devesh’s parents did... accept!
The second challenge is to acknowledge that, although we are in the 21st Century, the society is still not inclusive of individuals with mental and developmental disorders. Till the time that the family was ignorant of Devesh’s problem, everything was fine. He was studying in a normal school and the teachers and his friends were behaving normally. The minute he was diagnosed as autistic, the people around him also started behaving “abnormally”! The teachers turned uncooperative and other students started abusing him.
Changing Devesh’s school and changing their house to be closer to the new school were the first of a series of adjustments that the family had to make to support Devesh. Hanumantharaju quit his job so that he could spend more time with his son. He built a house in Sarjapur and let it out on rent to ensure financial independence and plan for his child’s future. His wife got a Diploma in Autism to help in their son’s training and growth.
The Musical Journey
Somewhere along this journey, they recognized the benefits of music in enhancing an autistic child’s vocal, motor and communication skills. Once it was decided that Devesh will be home schooled after completing 7th, they sent him to music classes. He started learning the tabla to help enhance his motor skills. His teacher was well-trained and very patient with Devesh, which in turn, helped develop his interest in the art form. He gave his first performance during Suchitra Film Society’s Annual Day function. Till date, Hanumantharaju cannot forget the joy on Devesh’s face and the pride he felt for his son!
Devesh has given many performances including some solo concerts over the years, and has also written the senior exam last year. His younger brother, Dhruva, who plays the keyboard, accompanies Devesh for some of these performances. He is learning how to play the mrudangam too. They initiated vocal training around the same time and he scored 92% in his Vocal Senior exam. He’s presently studying for the Vidwat degree.
Constantly Inventing and Finding Opportunities
Hanumantharaju says that it’s extremely important to get involved and constantly search for inroads and opportunities to allow children to showcase their talents, mingle with others, and gain confidence in themselves. Irrespective of which function or gathering Hanumantharaju goes to, he start connecting with the crowd and pushes his son to sing a song to break the ice.
Throughout this COVID19 lockdown period the family has been finding ways to keep Devesh engaged. He is preparing to take the SSCL (10th) exam in October and they have chosen Kannada, English, Home Science, Carnatic Vocal and Data Entry as his subjects, and they use every hour of every day to train Devesh in some task or the other. They taught him to cook and clean. He even plays badminton and football and has also learnt cycling and a little bit of swimming.
More recently, the family set up a terrace garden for him and are teaching him organic farming. Devesh knows how to make compost and mix manure. Whenever he gets lazy and disinterested, Hanumantharaju takes him to the garden or for a walk. He loves visiting temples so, they started encouraging him to take the bus and visit a couple of temples nearby. Initially, Dhruva would accompany him on the bus but today, Devesh can commute alone.
According to Hanumantharaju, parents of special needs children need to take on multiple roles – become the child’s teacher, friend, confidante, counsellor, facilitator, inventors, et al! The journey is long and definitely not easy but it is one that they have to make together. When he looks back at the last 10+ years, where they were and where they have reached today and the things they have planned for Devesh’s future, Hanumantharaju feels an immense sense of gratitude and satisfaction. In his words, “If you can move mountains for your child, you can be sure that they will make it count”.