By Jaya Sudhakar and Siddhanth Palaparti
We lived in a rented flat for 17 years in Mumbai from the time Siddhanth was around 6+. It was closer to his school. There were 22 flats in the building. The cosmopolitan atmosphere was conducive to multiple opportunities for Siddhanth’s social skills to bloom. Prior to that we were residing in office quarters with fewer residents in the building and it lacked the diverse professional background of our neighbours in the present building.
As Siddhanth was verbal and still young at age, there was no noticeable difference between him and his peers except when it came to unstructured play and the oddity of him speaking only in English. He overcame the latter with time as Hindi and Marathi were introduced in school. His inherent hyperlexic tendencies stood by him in swiftly cracking the code for reading the Devanagari script which in turn made sense of all the Hindi and Marathi words he had been hearing around him so far. He picked up a little bit of Tamil and Telugu also along the way, the languages spoken by his maternal and paternal relatives respectively.
The gap in unstructured play always remained wide but we made up for it with me being around him as a facilitator in structured play with his friends, by introducing Board Games and by taking him to various parks regularly, often with friends. Siddhanth picked up Board Games easily and with his knack for computer skills, playing computer games were always a favourite. The summer vacations provided a wonderful opportunity for Siddhanth to interact with friends through board games and computer games. Our home would be an open house with all the kids of the building joining in. Many lazy hot afternoons were spent playing pen and paper games like ‘Name, Place, Animal, Thing’, ‘X zero’, ‘Raja,Rani,Chor,Police’, board games such as ‘Snakes & Ladders’, ‘Ludo’, ‘Scrabble’, ‘Housie’ and ‘Monopoly(Trade)’ and of course the versatile playing cards were not left out. Besides the fun element, Siddhanth was able to pick up useful social skills like turn taking, waiting, taking initiatives and being assertive.His language and communication skills improved vastly. Likewise,many mathematical concepts were reinforced in a fun way. In those pre-Internet days, we used to play CDs on the desktop. Siddhanth’s favourite was the KBC CD. It was an interactive audio-visual game with GK questions and answers in multiple choice format. As the television show ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ was immensely popular, so was this game with all the kids. They thoroughly enjoyed playing it. There were many activity CDs too – which Siddhanth and kids of his age enjoyed.
The initiatives in the vacations extended to the regular days. Oftentimes a kid or two would drop in after school hours to play a board game with Siddhanth or share some computer time with him (it helped that we were in the nascent days of the home PC then – it wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now and many children found it a novelty) or would be more than willing to accompany us to one of the parks in the neighbourhood. Slides were always a favourite with Siddhanth. He started enjoying jungle gyms, swings and see-saws after regular OT sessions and because his friends were a big inspiration. Invariably the kids who sought Siddhanth were the very active ones who basically needed a lot of playtime and whose mothers were only too glad to let them spend an hour or two with us as they were assured of their safety.
When Siddhanth entered his teens, his father was transferred to a smaller town. As we couldn’t find an inclusive school there, Siddhanth and I stayed back in Mumbai to
continue his studies. During his school vacations we would join his father at Sangli. My husband always has a way with children. So some teenage boys from his neighbourhood were regular visitors to our home even before Siddhanth and I went there. Again, the games that we had carried from Mumbai helped Siddhanth to bond with them and make new friends. Similarly the vacations spent with cousins also involved a lot of board games and word games for Siddhanth.
Those were the days before the advent of the smartphone. Play and interaction with peers formed an important part of Siddhanth’s daily routine. I am thankful to all the workshops , OT professionals and Siddhanth’s school ambience for stressing on this important aspect of his life. It went a long way in making our life fun and enjoyable.
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.