January 2013 saw the founding of our centre Sense Kaleidoscopes. We did not have a big inauguration ceremony. No politicians or celebrities graced the occasion. We simply had two of our children light the lamp with a few close family members in attendance. The simple beginning marked our foray into the world of vocational training for special needs children. Today, ten months later, we have ten children training under us with five full time staff members and three consultants. We also have a handful of volunteers coming in for a few hours each week which gives the children much needed exposure to new faces and new skills.
We constantly face challenges in making ends meet at our centre. The reason is because we are a pure one-on-one set up. It is a model that makes no sense economically but it is the only model that can provide consistent results across the board for every child. Autism manifests itself so differently in each child that to do group sessions would mean that our efforts at teaching would be diluted. The results then would be poor and we too would have let down these children who come to us because they have nowhere else to go. Most special schools or regular schools with special needs departments do not want children especially boys to stay in the schools once they are over 15 years of age. They fear their behavioural issues which without proper interventions and complicated by natural hormonal changes increase considerably in the teenage years. Schools do not want these problem children because handling them is a challenge.
Once this stage is reached, parents try every possible avenue to keep their children productively engaged. Most fail at this because it requires a community of support. The children who grow into young adults regress in their behaviour till they can do no more than occupy space in a room. Every human being needs to have a reason to get up in the morning – somewhere to go and work, people to be around them and a sense of purpose in life. These autistic children grow into autistic adults and they are marginalized to such an extent that one can almost feel the cloak of invisibility around them. It is a hard life being autistic and it is harder when you have no one, not even yourself, to count on.
This then is why we have Sense Kaleidoscopes. We want to equip our children with some skills they can utilize as a means of sustaining themselves later in life. For those children who have severe issues and who cannot be sent out to work in a regular environment, we hope to start cells or units where we garner orders for artwork or screenprinting or data entry and then have the students execute them. They will then earn enough money to take care of their own needs. The self-esteem and confidence levels will grow as will their comprehension in terms of money matters. As comprehension grows (for any concept), behavioural problems recede to a great extent. In simple language, once our children feel useful and valued, they gain a chance for wider acceptance and the quality of their lives will improve.
For all of what I have written about to stay no more than a dream, I need help – from the community, from business people, from IT stalwarts, from children – from anyone who wants to make a difference to these lives. I hope one day that our little centre makes its mark in the world for the ones we work for have no voice to fight their own cause.
– Anima Nair