I spoiled Mohit’s plans for a lazy afternoon at home after a long day at school. Among the things to do on the 17-year-old’s list were “frying aloo” for an evening snack with his mother, a much-loved activity that he indulges in often, and humming his favourite Remo Fernandes’ songs with her. But my being there means he’s not been able to do any of those things.
So, he makes his impatience known to his mother from time to time, quietly but constantly reminding her of the potatoes they were planning to fry together.
Kamini Lakhani, on the other hand, seems like the epitome of all things calm as she indulges his dozen queries and gives him the reassurance he needs, each step of the way.
“Mohit has largely depended on home and family for his overall development, since we were based in Korea when he was diagnosed with autism. There were no English language special education schools that we could send him to,” she says.
Being born with autism means having a developmen tal disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around him or her. All people with autism have problems with social interaction, communication (verbal as well as non verbal) and difficulties in the development of the imagination.
After going through the initial phase of denial of her son’s condition, Kamini trained in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) in the United States to become a certified behaviour analyst. Till date, she and her husband Anil Lakhani attend workshops to study ABA, which is widely used to help children with autism.
“The training made me more attuned to Mohit’s needs and helped me build on his abilities. I took charge of his education at home since then. While in Korea, I would have to prepare him for his lessons in school and an aid would accompany him to all his classes to offer whatever help Mohit required with the schoolwork,” says Kamini.
However, the turning point in their lives came six years ago when the Lakhanis moved back to Mumbai. “Mohit real ly inspired me to reach out to others with autism and that’s when I thought of using my training to set up a school for children and adolescents with autism. The Support for Autistic Individuals was then set up in 2002 and today provides an education to 40 youngsters with autism. Mohit is one of them,” says Kamini.
“I also conduct ABA training with these children’s mothers because I believe if these mothers volunteer their time, they can be the best therapists for their children,” she adds.
Even after school is done, Kamini works with Mohit at home, getting him to interact with people around him and express himself as best as he can. So his constant reminding his mother of the potatoes that he wants to fry is commendable.
Not many youngsters with autism can communicate their needs to others around them.
“The final goal is to see each of these children being given the respect they truly deserve,” says Kamini.
(For more information on autism, contact the Society for Autistic Individuals (SAI) on 26611237)
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