Spectrum: It's all about being proactive

Spectrum: It's all about being proactive

Ankura Foundation, a non-profit based in Bengaluru, runs an inclusive preschool and provides therapy for children with autism

The organisation also provides after-school support for those who have joined mainstream schools. They are helped in the areas they may be deficient in such as language and handwriting.

Chetan, a two-year-old, who hardly responded to his name, did not speak or maintain eye contact; rather, he preferred to sit in a corner and feared heights. His parents, worried about his development, consulted doctors and Chetan was diagnosed with autism. Without further delay, his mother enrolled him to Ankura Foundation, a non-profit organisation based in Bengaluru, which runs an inclusive preschool with an early intervention programme for differently abled children. Formed in 2001, it caters to children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, attention deficit hyperactivity, global developmental delay and learning difficulties.    

Once Chetan joined, the centre began working on his pre-learning behaviour and put him through occupational therapy. Soon, he started responding to his name and developed eye contact. He began speaking in short sentences and socialising. Within seven months he was integrated into a mainstream school.

Responding to autism 
“This case shows us the ideal way parents and institutions can work together towards optimum output, bridging the zone of proximal development. An early intervention with a multidisciplinary team is very important for the child to relieve the symptoms of autism. Parents play as important a role as therapists and must create an optimum environment for the development of the child. Autism cannot wait, repetition of an activity and a routine will be needed to ensure that the child understands what is expected of him or her,” says Shobha Shashidharan, director of the foundation. 

The intervention programme in Ankura follows a unique model, which includes facilities like speech therapy, special education, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, all under one roof. The programme is carried out through various methods such as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), Floortime, multiple intelligences and other techniques to meet the individual needs of a child.

‘‘Every child is unique with different learning abilities and background. So, they must have their own goals set, to reach age-appropriate development. The first and foremost challenge is for the parents to accept that their child has a problem. They get anxious and stressed out. Family and peer pressure are some of the challenges that they face whilst dealing with special children’’, says Shobha. 

This apart, when the parents are unable to follow the schedule at home or aren’t empowered enough, the situation complicates further. Enrolling the child after the prescribed age of intervention leads to a delay in the treatment. And, sometimes parents are unable to afford therapy for the child. Meltdowns, tantrums, injuries or convulsions in schools are some of the serious challenges in the recovery process. 

However, the team at Ankura is supportive, empowers the parents and helps them overcome hurdles. Sometimes, when there is a regression they must begin working with the child again. The notion of enrolling an autistic child in a mainstream school as opposed to an intervention programme is common, but it doesn’t help. Rather, it complicates the situation as the autistic children are unable to cope up with the standardised system. And, the staff is often under-equipped when it comes to handling special children.     

Overcoming hurdles

Ankura has a multidisciplinary team which includes qualified speech therapists, special educators, physiotherapists and occupational therapists who can handle autistic children. Shobha says, “We bring out an individualised programme tailored to the needs of each child in all the areas of developments like functional, physical, motor, cognitive, language, social and emotional. The progress is recorded and reported to their respective doctors. The parents are informed about what we are doing at school, also educate and empower them to handle the children.” 

The organisation also provides after-school support for those who have joined mainstream schools. They are helped in the areas they may be deficient in such as language and handwriting. Autism cannot be reversed but with proper intervention, the children can lead normal lives. 

Talking about the experience with Ankura, a parent says, “My son was one year and 10 months old when he joined the centre and was diagnosed with a high risk of autism. I strongly believe that the aggressive early intervention received here played a major role in his recovery. In a span of four months, he went from no verbal communication to 80 meaningful words in his vocabulary, and there was a significant improvement in social behaviour. His eye contact improved while communicating, all because of the therapy.”

For more information, log on to www.ankurafoundation.org.