“We all have problems and children with autism are no different. Their challenges come in the form of difficulty in socialisation and communication. But, once you connect with them, their world is much beautiful and happier than ours,” says Alli Murugesan, founder-director at Vasantham Special School for the Mentally Challenged.
Located in Mugappair East, Vasantham is involved in the development of children and adults with special needs to make them ready to face the world. 2 April is celebrated as World Autism Awareness Day, and Alli speaks to News Today about Vasantham and her experience working with autistic children.
Talking about Vasantham’s beginnings, Alli said, “I was working with a special school after graduation in Chennai. I understood that among the people with disabilities, individuals with developmental disorders suffer the most. And their families often feel lost running around to find a permanent solution.”
So, Alli started Vasantham with six students in 1989. Today, she handles 130 special individuals with a staff to student ratio of 1:8.
Highlighting on the unique skills of autistic individuals, Alli says, “These individuals are amazingly skilled and disciplined. That’s a big strength. We have had several instances when our students pick a trash someone drops on the road and put it in the bin. Following a routine and their insistence of sameness are few of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder. But, these are also their unique abilities which so-called normal people like us don’t follow consistently,” she adds.
On what keeps her going, Alli says, “More than the professional qualifications, the compassion to work with them gives me the energy. They teach us more, than the other way round. Just like us, each one of these children is different. But connecting with them isn’t a big deal if we move into their world.”
Today, Alli is supported by her daughter Krupa, a qualified speech-language therapist. “We as a family live in Vasantham. So, my daughter grew up with people with special needs. She is an assistant professor in a medical college and in the evenings and weekends, she handles the communication aspect of our students. She also teaches parents to be better communicators. She chose her career and it wasn’t thrust on her,” says the proud mother.
|To raise awareness on autism, Vasantham is conducting an open house session from 2 to 10 April from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm. Mugappair residents can visit the school and witness the regular activities of individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
Vasantham’s premises in Mogappair will also be lit up blue for the month of April to create awareness and support Autism affected people. Activities such as display of posters, distribution of pamphlets and badges will also be done to raise awareness. Everyone in the school will also be dressed in blue – the symbolic colour that represents autism.
You can reach Alli Murugesan at 044-26560662.
|Early detection is key|
|Alli has important advice for parents. She says, “Autism can be identified as young as 18 months, sometimes even earlier by detecting signs like not maintaining eye contact, preference to play alone and unusual behaviour, delay in communication, etc.”
She also asks parents to consult professionals and not fall for fake methods that are advertised. She says, “End of the day, therapies and family involvement matters. Spend time with children. Keep away from gadgets. It’s important for us to discover their world than pushing them into ours. Any parent should first not compare their child with another.”