In planet autism

A friend with two autistic children was lamenting to me recently on what the future held for her children. She said she was spending sleepless nights thinking who would look after her sons when she and her husband were no longer around. A newspaper article I came across soon after was even more distressing — at least two million Indians are inhabitants of Planet Autism. That means there are a few million people out there — family members of people suffering from autism — who are spending sleepless nights like my friend.

People with autism find it difficult to communicate with others and process information. No wonder, my friend is afraid that nobody will understand her children like she does. She runs a school for autistic children and is currently struggling to gather funds for a care home where autism sufferers can live with dignity when their parents are gone. Unfortunately, unlike in western countries, the concept of care homes for autistic people is relatively unknown in India.

The situation in the UK, if not ideal, is much better. I did voluntary work for a charity organisation in my town in the UK last year. This organisation helps adults with learning disabilities — many of them autistic — find work. Some of the service users did find work — an autistic man was appointed administrative assistant in the local city council office.
Many of the autistic adults I came across lived in residential care homes or had the benefit of supported living services in their own homes. Those in care homes lived away from their families, but their needs were tended to by highly trained support workers.
They lived in purpose-built apartments located near local amenities such as shopping centres, leisure centres and parks. Each placement was co-ordinated to respond to individual needs of the resident, aiming to instill confidence in them. Personal achievement meant an opportunity to move to a supported living setting and a lower level of direct staff intervention, representing a further step on the pathway to living safely and independently.

Not only support workers, The National Autistic Society in the UK also encourages people to volunteer as befrienders and spend time interacting with autism sufferers. Such supported living and befriending schemes could surely provide some cheer to the families of autistic people in India.

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