SUBSTITUTE by Jaya Sudhakar and Siddhanth Palaparti


One of the earliest features one learns about Autism is about the challenges faced by an individual with ASD to accept changes in routine. One also learns that flexibility within a routine helps the individual to gradually accept changes.

When Siddhanth was in the second grade we relocated to a home closer to his inclusive school setup. He started going to school by school bus. I would go to see him off at the designated bus stop. As luck would have it, in that particular year the bus contractor seemed to have his own challenges. So we were subjected to changes in buses every now and then. Route no 6 would be displayed prominently at the front of the bus. But when the bus colour kept changing, from red to yellow to bright green and violet, it didn’t go down well with our little champ. Siddhanth would go teary – eyed to school with me waving to him with a silent prayer in the mind.

The academic year in the 4th grade brought a different set of challenges. This year saw the introduction of separate teachers for different subjects viz art, craft, Hindi and Marathi – until then there was one class teacher teaching all the subjects. Siddhanth didn’t face any difficulty initially. But the real challenge came when the time tables changed suddenly – whenever some teacher was absent and some other teacher would come in her place to teach an altogether different subject. So the word ‘substitute’ was introduced to him by me. I was blatantly ignorant of the fact that the word ‘proxy’ was used in his school.I went by the term used in my school days but his teachers were quick to switch to Siddhanth’s vocabulary whenever the need arose.

Once his Hindi teacher’s mother – in – law was hospitalized. As the elderly lady was advised bed rest for a few days after her impending discharge, the teacher planned to proceed on a fortnight’s leave. So in the next 2 – 3 days she was keen to finish her portion in all the classes. Naturally she did a lot of jugglery and art and craft classes of every section were her first target to swap classes.

So one fine day the Hindi teacher entered the class and first addressed Siddhanth. “Siddhanth,I know it is your craft period.You can choose to go to Deepa Miss in the staff room and do clay modelling with her or else you can choose to sit here and attend Hindi class,” she said. Apparently Siddhanth looked at her straight in the eye and said,“I want to go to Deepa Miss and take the clay and then come back here to this Hindi class.”

So that’s what he ultimately did. He brought the clay from his craft teacher and returned back to class.On that day the Hindi teacher was doing a classroom evaluation of spellings.She would call out students to the blackboard and dictate words for them to write. As spellings were one of Siddhanth’s key strength areas, he had a field day pressing the clay (play dough) with one hand and getting totally involved with the action in class – correcting his classmates from time to time whenever someone made a mistake.“The clay (play dough) that he kept pressing would have given him proprioceptive stimulation and increased his concentration,” observed his school counsellor when we were later discussing this incident in our next monthly meeting.

We were not done with ‘substitute’ yet. In one of the following Sundays my elder sister planned to visit our home. Her son and her neighbour (who is a good friend of both my sister and me) were to accompany her. In the last minute, my nephew backed out as he wasn’t keeping well and the neighbour’s daughter decided to join. She is of Siddhanth’s age and a buddy since his early childhood.

The visit went well with both the kids playing board games as usual. After they left Siddhanth casually told me,“Today Manasa came as a substitute for Anish.” “Well, not exactly,” I protested feebly. “Of course!” came the prompt reply,“Manasa came instead of Anish. She came as a substitute for Anish,” he informed me triumphantly using the same words I had used umpteen times with him.

Well,what could I possibly say? It was a double whammy of a boomerang and checkmate!

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.

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