(Acceptance and Inclusion- 2 )by Jaya Sudhakar and Siddhanth Palaparti
In Mumbai we resided in a 5 – storey building for 17 years. So Siddhanth literally grew up with many of his peers in our neighbourhood. The cosmopolitan surroundings, diverse professional backgrounds of our neighbours and the open-mindedness of Mumbaikars in general, went a long way in providing a conducive atmosphere for Siddhanth to evolve and develop holistically in a very organic way.
Siddhanth was already diagnosed to be in the spectrum when we moved in. We did not give overwhelming importance to it in our interaction with others – neither us nor our neighbours. In the initial years as most of his daily living skills were age-appropriate and as Siddhanth was generally friendly by nature, no one noticed anything amiss. His inherent ability to remember faces and names of people stood him in good stead. As he grew up and gaps between him and his peers started widening in certain areas, we would always respond to general curiosity by referring to the challenges he faced and how we were working towards facilitating him to overcome them. Most of the time we only met with understanding and encouraging words, especially from the senior citizens. Siddhanth’s peers too were eager to include him in their play. There were older children in the group and they were quick to accommodate him , introducing a few structured games in group play as he was comfortable in it. ‘Autism’ as a term was introduced by us to our neighbours only after we were fairly settled and it just happened organically, by speaking about it to a couple of neighbours who showed genuine interest / concern and through them by word of mouth, the other residents too became familiar with the term. Right from the beginning through our association with the parent support group Forum for Autism , Siddhanth too became aware about Autism having participated in many of its awareness walks and sensitization programmes. So, in a way Siddhanth’s self – acceptance of his autism and acceptance of his autism by our neighbours and his peers were going on simultaneously.
The general friendliness and co-operative nature of our building residents provided many opportunities for Siddhanth to socialize. It also helped that my husband loves the company of children . He is so easygoing with them that they instantly take a liking for him. In my last blog I had mentioned about how playing board games, computer games and going to parks with friends enriched Siddhanth’s childhood. Atleast twice a week after his return from office, my husband would take Siddhanth and his friend Karan on his bike to play in parks with interesting play equipment. We soon gained reputation among our building kids as aunty being the go-to person to give them ideas and provide resources for their school projects and uncle being their trusted ally and supporter for indulging them in all their curiosities in exploring the world .
An abiding memory is when the building kids were giving shelter to some stray puppies. One little pup was once unwell and the kids were waiting for my husband to return from office . They had already made enquiries and found out about a veterinarian. So on hearing the earnest joint request to go to the vet, my husband readily obliged. With Siddhanth and another kid riding pillion , there were three other kids with the pup in an auto rickshaw, giving directions to the vet’s clinic. The bemused vet quickly got to work. His medicines and guidance were like a tonic to the worried kids. All was well in the end, with the puppy recovering within a day. I still remember opening the door that evening to my beaming husband and a very excited eight-year old Siddhanth after their visit to the vet. I got a wonderful and enthusiastic narration of the course of events by Siddhanth, probably the best and longest verbal recollection of an incident by him until then.
The mutual love and affection of our family with our building kids was reciprocal. There was this other lovely incident. It was my birthday and my husband had his hands full as the Executive Director was visiting their branch office. It was only in the evening that he could breathe after the visit went well. He bought a small bunch of roses and as he was alighting from his bike in our building premises, he was accosted by three wide – eyed kids. “Aunty ke liye?”, asked one and as he nodded his head, “Aunty ka birthday hai?”, asked another. Within the next five minutes we heard our doorbell ring. The three kids were stretching out a small bouquet hand made by them with whatever flowers they could gather from the plants in the building premises.“Happy birthday aunty”, they wished in chorus with their million dollar smiles.Well, that’s about one of the best birthday wishes I’ve ever received, evergreen in my memory.
Looking back, there were several occasions when we had decided on impromptu outings for Siddhanth with our building kids. As the kids grew up, their tastes also evolved – so there were the parks, the movies, eating -outs and I even remember bundling Siddhanth and a couple of kids in auto rickshaws to take them to view astronomical events (the Venus transit and partial solar eclipses) through a telescope in an Astronomical Society which was in the vicinity .
It’s true that Autism is a lifelong condition and alters our lifestyle in a huge way. Yet, let it not deter us or our children from enjoying the small pleasures of life with people we are comfortable with. We may or may not have a huge social circle , still we can always find ways to be happy by being in the present and embracing the lovely moments which unfold in this blessing called ‘life’. Zindagi jiyo jee bharke 🙂
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.