Fr Thomas Felix, founder director, Central Institute on Mental Retardation, Thiruvanthapuram, was in Delhi where 11 artistes, including teenagers, with autism performed songs and classical dances at the National Museum. Excerpts from an interview with HT Education:
Does autism affect more boys than girls in India?
I can’t authenticate that. However, what one would like to say is that an autistic child can be meaningfully trained. You can see a 13-year-old autistic girl riding horses. Initially, we forcefully put her on a horse. Now she rides on her own. Riding is a tool to develop psychosocial language. But people at large label them. Because of this teachers will not try (making an effort with the child) beyond a point.
If one child is developed, then our country will develop. They have some limitations, just as I am wearing glasses. We have a limitation, so we wear glasses.
How should this be done - in separate schools?
They should be put in normal schools, not separate schools. There’s no need for a separate school. In the same school, you can have special classes, especially modelled, with basketball, swimming pool, and lecture facilities etc for exposure. They need to be given multi-sensory inputs of touch, listen, taste, and see —these develop their faculties.
That’s why we have an agriculture university for agri-therapy them. Cultivation involves soil, water, minerals, and tools. You touch the plants, tools etc. So, the more they are exposed, the more they learn.
What’s the mindset of parents of autistic children?
Parents’ mindset is also very good. But for parents to be effective change-makers, they should be made knowledgeable. Otherwise, they’ll not be able to integrate the children in the family and in the community. Make the mother knowledgeable and competent. For this we have a home school kit. We developed the 3 C (comprehension, competence and creativity) concept using shapes as the medium.