Living a life diagnosed with Autism involves challenges in every step. Raj could not figure out why he couldn’t go to school. He kept grabbing his school satchel and made for the door. His mother Pushpa lata finally had to call his teacher and make her talk to Raj. Raj is a non-verbal autistic child. For many like him the lockdown has been a major disruption in routine.
For children like him any disruption in routine is most distressful. Cooped at home, he was ready to tear his hair when his teacher asked Pushpa to create a school-like atmosphere for him at home. So Pushpa emptied out a room, put a desk and chair in it complete with a blackboard. Raj enters the room all dressed in school gear complete with his satchel and works on the worksheets and tasks WhatsApped by his teacher from Arunodaya Special School which runs multi category disability center for special education since 1995 in Visakhapatnam.
With his mother’s assistance, Raj not only completes the worksheets but also helps his mother with household chores like changing pillow covers, watering the plants and generally pottering around the house. “I take him to the terrace in the evenings for a walk and some fresh air. This helps a lot too,” said Pushpa. It hasn’t been easy either for the child or the parents. The lockdown was so sudden that these children could not be prepared, added Pushpa.
Much the same is happening with children at Arunodaya Special School for mentally-challenged children. “We have about 92 children with autism, hearing impairment a majority with mental retardation. The main difficulty was to make them understand the lockdown. They missed school and their teachers, for the school was their second home and they shared a very special relationship with their teachers,” said SL Raju Secretary of the school. With specially designed building which is barrier free, the school is having 5 trained special educators and other rehab professionals like physiotherapist, speech therapist, yoga therapist, part time teachers for art, music, dance and craft.
It is this dependence on teachers that makes parents call them up whenever the going gets tough. Ratnadeep, a seven-year-old autistic child from Ram Nagar, missed his two hours of football practice every day. “That was a way to spend his energy, and doctors had advised it as therapy for him,” said Ratnadeep’s mother Kirtika. During the lockdown, he had no option but to run around in his small apartment. Kirtika, too, tries to create a school out of her one-room apartment for her children.
“I finish my household chores in the morning and from 9.30am both my sons are attending classes.” Ratnadeep’s elder brother, a regular child, attends his online classes in one corner and Ratnadeep does his homework in another. “Studying along with his brother makes him happy,” said his mother. But the irony is these children have got into a routine of being at home; so, when school reopens, it will mean yet another disruption.