Ability to bring about change

Ability to bring about change

At Pragati, on the outskirts of Bengaluru, trainees are working on their tasks. Some are quite engrossed, some seem distracted. In the digital unit, Aditya is keen on exhibiting his printout on a mug. He has designed the image of marine life on it using MS Paint on the computer. His friend, Arvind, has drawn pictures of dancing, skipping and cycling, while another friend Sayoni’s screen displays white circular patterns against a black backdrop.

Likewise, in the creative unit, trainees are stitching on matty cloth. Some of them appear detached to their surroundings. In a corner, one can see the masterpieces they have created. These individuals are capable and need to be loved and cared in a special way. But, perhaps they are born to be different. They are the ones that fall under the category of autism spectrum disorder. With its diverse characteristic features, it seems like no two affected individuals are alike. Hence, the schedule for the day is personalised for each person. This is also the place where adults with autism undergo skill training. Pragati is a unit of Biswa Gouri Trust, which works towards the betterment of lives of people with autism.

To put in simple terms, autism is a developmental disorder manifested by difficulty in adapting to societal norms. Autistic people are incapable of controlling their emotions. Hence, because of the associated stigma, parents keep them from socialising. Acceptance from the parents and the community is crucial as, without proper intervention, autism can debilitate the quality of life.

Early intervention

Bubbles Centre is a school for children with autism and is the fundamental segment of the trust. At present, 34 students, aged from six to 18, are enrolled in the school. Their difficulties are multiple and vary in severity from child to child. As they are unable to express their needs or emotions, they get anxious and frustrated. “The idea is to bring out the natural expressions of the child. We have to intervene in concerned areas to make the child independent, productive and adaptive,” says the founder-director, Sarbani Mallick.

A holistic approach to learning is adopted to boost their social skills. The focus also is to enhance their physical, sensory and motor functions to assist in activities of daily living. Simultaneously, child-specific speech therapy is given to aid in communication. Charts and pictures are extensively used as they are good visual learners. Once they are able to follow instructions, the focus is on productive work. Computers, stitching and block printing are gradually introduced in their modules.  “All the while, we have to keep them engaged. So, planning and creativity on the teacher’s part are tremendous,” states Ratna Das, school’s programme head.

“I found a good support system in Bubbles. Teachers are dedicated and understand the children well. Discussions and workshops are held every month for parents. This helped me motivate myself and other parents also,” says Smrithy Rajesh whose 10-year-old son, Advaith, is with Bubbles from the past six years.

Functional training

Pragati conducts a two-year occupational training programme for adults with autism. It was started just over a year ago. Presently, there are 16 candidates and some of them have joined as adults. “They are uniquely talented and can be quite logical too,” says Meenakshy Karassery, the programme coordinator. The focus is to work towards their skill development.

In the digital section, they are trained in multimedia and graphic designing. It is colour-coded, has bigger fonts and larger keys for dexterity. Students are also acquainted with video editing and digital printing. The curriculum involves functional digital literacy, too.

Job-specific training, the skills needed for front office jobs like operating a printer and scanner, punching and filing are also imparted here. The trainees make teaching aids that are used by teachers and students in classrooms. Communication and emotional regulation is a major part of training as autism can come in the way of livelihood.

“They are efficient but it is difficult to convince them to get into a routine. Any work that is repetitive and has no ambiguity caters to their learning style,” states Mubin Taj who manages the creative unit. The creative unit incorporates block printing, shibori printing, embroidery and paper rolling crafts. For the past three years, all students and trainees have been into mainstream theatre and stages performances as well. “Given the right opportunity, they can become self-reliant. But truly speaking, what we know about autism is so less when compared to what we don’t. Every day is a challenge but with small, firm steps, we believe that our today is better than yesterday which is gratifying,” says Sarbani Mallick. For details, one can contact the trust on
080 28465336.