When I entered SAI Connections, I saw the staff and students having a fun time outside. Some were tossing a ball around, some took part in races, yet others lounged around.
The teachers had come up with a fun, non school day for the students. They played outdoor games, danced, sang and listened to music together. Joy and laughter permeated the atmosphere.
Normally, I plan some outing for the students. This year, I hadn’t planned anything. I just wanted to go with the flow.
I made an impromptu decision to treat them to goodies from the nearby Annapurna Store, that stocks every kind of food item imaginable.
The students could pick a couple of items they wanted.
They were well behaved, for the most part.
The plan was to choose items and bring it up to the cashier for billing.
I enjoyed watching them make decisions about what they wanted to buy.
Little Ishaan’s eyes shone as he looked at the mouth watering chamchams and other colorful Bengali sweets. Rishi was very clear that he wanted a packet of chips and a bar of chocolate. Aashni insisted on a pack of Oreo cookies and a drink.
Mohit was clear he didn’t want the regular wafers, but a box of Pringles instead!
They were patient as they waited for their friends to make choices before heading back to the Center.
A couple of unexpected events occurred.
A fellow shopper was touched by the scenario and she came over to offer her good wishes to all the students.
I informed the owner of Annapurna stores about World Autism Awareness Day and about SAI Connections.
He was deeply moved and very kindly offered to set up tables and serve the kids some snacks in the near future.
I was touched by the kindness displayed. In both cases, it didn’t come from a place of sympathy, but from respect and goodness of their hearts.
I realized how people on the spectrum can connect with peoples’ hearts- just by being themselves.
The word RESPECT flashed before my eyes.
Do we really respect our children and students?
If we did, then we would presume intelligence.
Answer the following questions to get your answer.
Do you believe in your child’s competence?
Have you looked beyond the negative results of IQ tests and still believe in your child’s intelligence? (Or have you bought into ‘intellectual disability?’)
Do you interact with your child the way you interact with others? And the way you would like to be interacted with?
Do you refrain from speaking about them in 3rd person in their presence?
(As if they were not present at all?)
Do you allow them the compensation of using fewer words and giving them time to process?
Do you refrain from invading their space?
(Force them to look at something or turn their face to look at something?)
Autism awareness has been greatly enhanced in the past few years.
I find people to be much more understanding at airports, malls and public places.
This is due to the diligent effort of organizations across the world that advocate and speak up for autistic individuals.
Many famous buildings and important monuments, world over, are lit up in blue for World Autism Awareness Day.
Yes, it’s wonderful.
It would be even more wonderful if each of us looked into our own hearts and reflected on the questions above.
It’s a life long, diligent practice.
Sometimes, I still fall short- so I’m not speaking to you from a pedestal.
In reflecting on ourselves, we will become better human beings.
Each of us is a messenger who can alter and transform the perception of others. The pledge of renewed respect must also include advocating for those not yet able to advocate for themselves in the presence of others. It means gently and respectfully requesting that others discontinue the practice of being disrespectful, unpresuming of intellect, or not as gentle or sensitive as they could be. It means being firm, thoughtful and creative when intercepting family, relatives and neighbors, educators and therapists, and doctors who demonstrate disrespect in the presence of a loved one. It’s a learning time for them too.
Kamini Lakhani is the founder and director of SAI Connections. She has been providing services in the field of autism for more than 25 years and is the authorized director of Professional Training for RDI in India and the Middle East. She is also the mother of a young adult with autism.