(Acceptance and Inclusion – 10 ) by Jaya Sudhakar and Siddhanth Palaparti
Friends, especially childhood friends have a special place in our heart. Neurodivergent individuals are no exception – they are generally friendly and long for friends. However they struggle with initiating friendships and sustaining them owing to their inherent communication challenges.
Siddhanth was fortunate to have great friends at school, many of whom have become life long friends and are still in touch in warm ways, every now and then. The supportive school environment, understanding teachers and affectionate friends have been instrumental in carrying forward the friendships over the years.
In Siddhanth’s primary school days, Karan, Somnath and Amit were his classmates who commuted in the same school bus with him. This, coupled with the fact that they all lived in the same residential locality within a radius of one kilometre, helped to strengthen their bonding.
Karan was the mature one, always updating me on important information passed on in school, specially the informal verbal information conveyed by the teacher before any official notice. It could be about the portion for upcoming class tests or about field trips or rehearsals for Annual Sports Day and Annual Cultural Day.
There is this incident which occurred in that time period which always fills me with wonder at his amazingly mature thinking at that young age. I used to drop Siddhanth off in the school bus at the stipulated bus stop. Karan usually would board the bus 2 – 3 stops ahead of Siddhanth. He would ‘catch’ a window seat and on seeing Siddhanth enter the bus, he would call him and offer the seat to him while he himself would sit on the aisle seat beside him.The school bus would then proceed to pick up a couple of more students from our street, take a reverse at the street corner and eventually pass by our building while heading towards the main road. When the bus took a reverse, the bus conductor (helper) would alight and tap the bus from the rear to signal the driver. So there was this very short phase when Siddhanth was amused by the tapping – he would put his hand out of the window and tap the bus imitating the conductor.
After a couple of days Karan telephoned me and reported the matter. He also came up with a suggestion asking me if I could request the driver and conductor to allow Siddhanth to board the bus outside our building gate to avoid being around when the bus took a reverse. I thanked him for the good suggestion and wondered aloud if he could try something else first – maybe he could sit by the window for the next few days and call Siddhanth to sit beside him in the aisle seat. He immediately agreed and implemented the same. The strategy worked like magic and a potential ‘behavioural issue’ was nipped in the bud.
This incident filled my mind with immense gratitude for the nine year old for his sensitive understanding of the situation and his earnest desire to make things better. It also made me ponder about the mindset of many schools which turn away neurodivergent children with the standard excuse that their teachers are not trained to address the special needs of students in an inclusive setting. Like Karan, we come across numerous individuals in our day to day life who have the positive mindset to try and get to know our children better. Very often it is their common sense and practical approach that facilitates the integration of our children in mainstream settings.
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.