It was 2009 when I first saw a child with Autism. There he was standing in the OPD room of our department in the hospital. I was amazed looking at him as for me like everyone “disability” meant affected hands, legs inability to walk or wheelchair bound. But this cute little boy was all around the place running, hopping and rocking.
It was during those days that I was fighting some serious life issues and the regular college issues that each one of faces. But this day was different. It had changed something in me. It was the first time that I could shift my focus from the confused anxious me to this bundle of energy standing right in front of me, wanting to know about him, wanting to know how could I as a “occupational therapist” help him.
Thus began the quest to understand the complex disorder. I started observing these kids, reading and providing therapy and…. EUREKA! …. started seeing results as well and with it came the contentment that my soul was searching for since years.
Its more than 7 years of my first encounter with Autism, of my quest to quench the thirst for knowledge of therapy techniques and change of societal outlook. But today when I look back happily something came hitting me hard and I couldn’t resist writing about it.
A realization came that more than me teaching these kids with Autism it was they who helped me overcome my darkness and taught me some important lessons of survival.
Autos – The Meaning
“Autos” means “self”. Autism means self-engrossed. These kids are just so OK being with them self. In today’s day when all of us are trying to be anywhere but with our own selves, listening to the quite voice of silence and experiencing that state of calm. Something that all of us should be doing for a better mental well-being.
Play, Play and Play
Children with Autism can play for hours with their hands and fingers or just a simple car. It taught me how simple things in life are seeing a blooming flower, having a happy family or a few trustworthy friends were enough for us rather than running forever in our life in search for nowhere.
Everything Falls Into A Routine
They love routine and structure something that we including the typical kids struggle with implementing. Treating them imbibed qualities of punctuality, regularity and sincerity in me not only for my therapy sessions but for life. A foolproof formula for success, isn’t it?
Kids with Autism can remain fixated on one thing for long attending to minutest details with unwavering attention. In these days when we and our typical kids are struggling with concentration issues; they taught me how can one ignore the chaos of the self ( self-doubt, thoughts, worries ) and of the outer world ( maddening race to nowhere, comparisons and responsibilities) and remain focused on that one little goal that you just set for yourself till its achieved.
Children on Autism spectrum indulge in rocking, jumping, hand flapping as self-regulatory behaviors when they feel that they are having too much; to calm themselves down. Today when most of us resort to abusing others, fighting and projecting our feelings on others when we can’t problem solve a situation; they taught me how to introspect and find our own ways to calming ourselves before impulsively reacting to a situation.
ITS OK TO NOT FIT IN
They taught me that “ITS OK TO NOT FIT IN”. I have always found myself to be a misfit in my college days. I was always too matured or quite of my age in any given situation. They taught me that it was beautifully OK to be a MISFIT. It takes a hell lot of courage to stand against the crowd and prove your mettle.
Less Means a Lot
They taught me that it’s OK to have a limited set of skills about whatever you have.. ACE in it! While we are all pushing ourselves and our kids to be a jack of all and master of none, these little masters are oozing with talent and unknowing policing that one particular skill waiting to be tapped. Wouldn’t that take away a big chunk of social anxiety and inferiority complex away?
No Distractions Please
During my sessions I observed that they always got engrossed by anything jazzing on my clothes till I resorted to simple clothes with most minimal accessories. It taught me how amazingly beautiful simplicity can be. We don’t need to jazz up and mask our feelings, looks and shortcomings to the outer world but be simple, easy going yet uniquely simple.
Be Loud and Clear
Children with Autism have difficulty understanding body language and speech yet they always caught me off guard through my vibrations. With more hugs coming when I was worried and sessions filled with laughter and life when I was happy. It taught me how to read peoples vibrations and reach out to those of my friends who were struggling silently with life but never voiced it out.
Many a times I used to wonder that should these kids on Autism spectrum be treated or should we as a society be treated by them.
A question that many a times resonates in my head…
Did I therapeutically heal these kids OR did they therapeutically heal me?
The Author Kinjal Chandra is a Practicing Pediatric Occupational Therapist.