April 3, 2012

Coping, not child's play



Strong bond: Parents need to be able to understand their child's needs.

On the occasion of fifth annual World Autism Day, Vishnupriya Bhandaram finds out how parents are dealing with their autistic children

Aparna Thota is brave enough to admit that coping with an autistic child isn't easy. “I recognised mild traces of autism in Dhruv around the time he was three. I kept trying to do my best... but when people around you tell you that he's doing well and there isn't anything wrong, you just want to cling on to that ‘truth'. I lost my focus many a time, because it was the most believable truth – that my son was doing ‘okay',” she says.

Autism is a life-long developmental disability, it affects the way in which the brain processes information. Children with autism cannot understand the same rules of communication, it is primarily a learning and social disability. While special educators say that there is no single form of ongoing therapy that can cater to the needs of all cases in autism, they reaffirm that a combination of intervention and family support helps the children cope. Sharada Ram, mother to an autistic child herself started an institute of help – Aarambh. “It is extremely important for the parents to be involved in their child's care. It is important that mothers understand their child's needs and must be able to communicate with their child,” says Sharada.

Parenting and autism can lead to unique stresses, according to a study conducted by Laura A. Schieve, Stephen J. Blumberg, Catherine Rice, Susanna N. Visser, Coleen Boyle on The relationship between autism and parenting stress: it has been reported that parenting autistic children can cause increased psychological distress, burnout and anxiety and not to exclude depression.

Vijay Bhanu, mother of 14-year-old Sathya Sai Ravi Teja says that autistic children have peculiar habits and as parents you need to first understand and develop a mode of communication with autistic children. “When I first got to know that my son is autistic, I quit my job and attended every available workshop. I felt that the problem was mine and not his. I needed to understand the problem and work my way around it. Your approach towards an autistic child will define how the child reacts to you. We must realise that the coping process is for both – child and parent,” she says. Vijay Bhanu also raises the issue about future employment and she says that it is important to keep a track at the activities your child is good at. “Employment is a burning point, what will become of my child after me. I have tried to inculcate a shred of independence in my child and of course vocational training helps. Ravi is great with computers and kitchen activities and I am hoping that maybe he could do something along those lines,” says Vijay Bhanu with hope.

Indulging in special activities helps Aparna understand her child better. “When we partake in parent-child training and intervention sessions, we also get to meet other parents and it becomes all the more engaging. You get to exchange teaching material and get the benefit of mutual learning. We get to keep our emotional balance too. There is a certain beauty to autism, each kid is so different, it's amazing,” she says. Aparna says that her son, Dhruv is an excellent skater and that she'll try to help him make a career out it. Aparna Thota says, “As parents we often tend to lose focus because we want to truly believe that they are doing better. Sometimes we need a reassuring hand to tell us not to stray.”

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