Of Endearingly Different Minds
Mythily Chari
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Imagine one morning you find a spacecraft (belonging to 3023) landing in your back garden. What would you do? You may start with some hypothesis and try to figure out what this is. You may try to open the doors with the tools you have. Understanding Autism is also like that. These children are light years ahead of us in terms of evolution. They are great teachers; possess immense patience, will to be joyful and free with tons of unconditional love for us. They do not judge us for our immature and often pathetic attempts at modifying them.
A savant who was subjected to a battery of tests got a score of mental age 3! When I asked him why he didn’t cooperate, he said he hated being tested. He remarked that the money spent by his mother on speech therapy was a waste as he had ‘chosen silence over chatter’. There is great power in silence. He clarified that for him mother tongue was not what was spoken by his current mother, but what all the previous birth mothers spoke. He said he was still well versed in Bengali, Tamil and German.
There isn’t a condition more misunderstood than Autism. O’Kanner’s ‘Inward looking’ behaviour was discarded, and we focused on mannerisms. Often parents are given Hyperactivity Attention Deficit Disorder as the first diagnosis. Higher vibration is different from hyperactivity. It is like the iphone that we use now and the cumbersome phones we used 50 years ago. Where is the comparison? Usually, drugs are prescribed to control this condition, Resperidol or Ritalin, whereas the daily schedule should have grounding activities. While the Higashi method is most suited having incorporated physical activities, Yoga and pranayam are the very bedrock for any child to ground. Using five elements in a daily schedule are some of the tips I could suggest, low cost, highly effective and user friendly.
Debashis Paul’s book, I Have Autism and I Like to Play Good Bad Tennis offers a window into the world of challenges and joys of parenting. The ‘I’ in the title refers to his son Noel, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of three and a half. Having worked for 35 years and seen more than 600 children, I found Noel is many souls rolled into one.Usually, I find bonding between mother and son or daughter. Father and son bonding is not so common. Noel struggled with writing; holding a pen or pencil was cumbersome for him. Vishal, a savant, commented in Hindi, ‘kalam kis ke liye, mouse behatar hai mere liye.’ The paradox is that no one in his home speaks ANY Hindi! He typed using facilitated communication when his energy had to be channelled by another person, like earthing an electrical gadget. Aishwarya Sriram wrote every day in a journal which we published as Avalukentru Oru Manam. Writing is catharsis. It must have been for Debashis too.
Noel simplifies his behaviour by saying ‘I have autism’. Aishwarya poignantly wrote, ‘I have autism, Padmasheshadriyum pokale (a prestigious school in Chennai) and Stella Marisum pokale.’ Her sister attended these.
In chapter 2, ‘My Blue Corsa’ (p. 27), Paul gets a swankier car from the company. Noel misses the Blue Corsa. I was touched by Noel’s love for the inanimate Blue Corsa.
How he comes to terms with the passing away of his grandfather is a poignant insight. Many children have difficulty understanding death. On the other hand, when I lost my partner, three Savants, Anthony (California), Anudeep (Hyderabad), and Chandrakant (Kottayam) communicated that death was just one door closing and another opening; none of them offered condolences, though all of them consoled me.
In ‘One More Day in Rome’ (p. 45), the PA system announces ‘Kripaya dhyan dein.’ Noel is fascinated that an unknown voice can control you. In ‘I am Speaking to a Stranger’ (p. 62) it is amusing to read how Noel solves the dirty clothes’ issue when reprimanded by saying, ‘OLX meinbech de.’
Debashis trying to make up by coming early from work just to hear ‘Hiya Dad’, shows how bonded he is with his boy, a rare gift of sensitivity (p. 85). After experiencing empathy and kindness from the coaches, job mentors and others, Paul comments, these people have been touched by God. His love for his teacher who leaves for Canada stands out. To be touched by Noel even though only through this book is a blessing. He promised he will not make his dad sad. However, I mourn his passing. Debashis has a great gift. Many children like Noel need his guidance and love.