SOCIAL SKILLS(The Birthday Stories – 3) by Jaya Sudhakar and Siddhanth Palaparti

( The Birthday Stories – 3)

As parents we often discover in our journey with our neurodivergent children that focusing on their strengths and special interests plays a huge part in their holistic development. In Siddhanth’s growing up years and as he has continued evolving, we too have experienced that his photographic memory, ability to remember the names and faces of people he meets, calendar calculations and special interest in remembering birthdays have helped us in facilitating him to enhance his social and communication skills.

So, besides celebrating Siddhanth’s own birthdays we started encouraging him to wish others on their birthdays. Asking acquaintances about their birthday helped him to keep the conversation flowing. His ability to remember the date accurately and reminding us of it, organically led us to suggest ways to him to wish them. This led to myriad ways of socializing and many happy, cherished moments for all concerned – like the time when I was attending a workshop and the then 6 -year old Siddhanth went with his father to visit his cousin ( 3 and a half years older than him and who had injured his hand while playing gully cricket) in hospital with a cake as it was the latter’s birthday or the times he used to make greeting cards for his friends on their birthdays or the numerous times we both used to visit the senior citizens in our building to wish them on their birthday. He would always surprise them with a big bar of chocolate and an endearing birthday wish when they least expected it and would revel in their genuine happiness.

Gradually like a tree branching out, Siddhanth’s passion for wishing for birthdays led us to facilitate him to learn other skills like shopping for cards or small birthday gifts and engaging in the related money transactions. It also opened doors for us to discover more about him – like when he was around 7 or 8 – he showed me and one of his building friends a gift shop from where we could buy a gift for my husband’s birthday. Siddhanth had earlier visited the shop with his father. As he guided us along various streets, I realized how good he was with routes.

The birthday wishes extended to the part time domestic helps that we had in various points of time in our life. Besides the birthday wish and the chocolate, the ‘maushis’ would also be treated to a little GK trivia by our little champ – he would tell them which celebrity shared his / her birthday with them – for by then he had started reading the ‘ Bombay Times’ and later on he took to browsing the net on topics of his special interests.

Siddhanth’s interest in birthdays have also helped him to enhance his communication skills. It began with wishing his grandmother,cousins,aunts and uncles on the landline phone. With the advent of smartphones, texting, audio messages, audio and video calls have widened his scope of interacting with his friends and relatives. In the early days of his online graphic designing classes, creating birthday greeting cards was his obvious first preference. When we moved in to Hyderabad, his special interest in birthdays have stood by him in breaking barriers to interact with our new neighbours. Just a few days back he bought a chocolate and greeted Shyamala aunty for her birthday when he met her during his evening walk. She is an elderly neighbour who stays alone in her flat and it was lovely to see her face brightening up.

I don’t remember when it exactly started , but since childhood another of Siddhanth’s special interests is doing calendar calculations – so if we tell him any date of current year, previous year or the next, he can tell the corresponding day of the week in a jiffy. This is something which enthralls people and when he asks them when their birthday is and tells them in a trice on which day it would occur next, it seems magical to them.

It has also been easy to combine Siddhanth’s love for birthdays and cakes – he is a very willing learner to bake different flavours of cakes and very enthused about decorating them. Again it started with baking for family members and then gradually extended to friends. Once Siddhanth helped me bake and decorate a lovely chocolate cake for my elder sister’s father-in-law’s milestone hundredth birthday. My husband matched the gesture by ordering a bouquet of 100 roses for the genial centenarian giving rise to yet another everlasting memory in the extended family.

Similarly his love for music nudges Siddhanth to send song videos to his music -loving friends on their birthday or videos of himself playing the happy birthday song.

Online classes and Whatsapp groups formed for them have now provided another golden opportunity for Siddhanth . He greets his peers in the group without fail on their birthday. This gets followed by a cascade of wishes from the other group members and leads to greater bonding among the youngsters. Siddhanth even sends a direct message to his mentor reminding her of the birthday of his classmates which is much appreciated by her.

Siddhanth is now an adult and almost every other day of his begins with him remembering someone’s birthday or wedding day with a smile and sharing with us enthusiastically how he would like to connect with that person later on in the day. His endearing thoughts and positive vibes rub off on us too and light up our everyday life in more ways than one. I am eternally grateful for this blessing.

Author Jaya Sudhakar

Jaya Sudhakar has done her Masters in Physics and was employed as an Asst.Manager in a PSU. Her son’s diagnosis urged her to seek voluntary retirement from service . She is actively involved with Forum for Autism, Nayi Disha and The Spectrum Autism. Friends,tending to plants, reading, writing, music, movies, travelling and a little bit of spirituality are her perennial energy boosters.

Typing of story in Word and Creative graphics done by CreativeSaathi Siddhanth Palaparti, Jaya’s son

Siddhanth is a budding graphic designer, coder and music lover. He has graduated in computer applications and completed several certificate courses. His work trajectory includes internships, freelancing and voluntary work for social causes. He derives immense happiness from remembering birthdays and wishing everyone for it. Swimming, travelling and playing music on the keyboard are his other passions.

Leave a Reply