Stories That Inspire
Tribune News Service
Jalandhar, September 19
In 2004, a woman was informed by schoolteachers that her son was different and non-communicative. After coming to know that her son was autistic in 2005, Anjali Dada has come a long way to become a pioneer in providing work to autistic kids.
Bringing up autistic kids in a state, which until recently had no reference point, training or help for autism affected – two mothers — Anjali Dada and Kanchan Aggarwal— have changed the entire discourse around autism.
The duo helped countless mothers shed their myths and inhibitions surrounding autism. They have trained kids to lead an independent life and perform their daily tasks without help.
If someone asks Dhananjay (Anjali’s 18-year-old son) what he does for a living, pat comes the reply, “I work at SOCH.”
What started with group therapy sessions from a garage has transformed into an NGO “SOCH”, which now provides training and assistance to people from Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The NGO delivers bulk orders of colorful hand-made merchandise prepared by autistic children.
The NGO also prepares bulk orders of merchandise and art works, including packets, bags, gift wraps, frames, packaging for parties, weddings and festive occasions. Autistic kids employed at the SOCH have their own accounts where proceeds from their work are deposited–they earn around Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 from bulk orders.
The SOCH is a partner for Big Bazaar’s “Quiet Hour” in Jalandhar (a pan India initiative) wherein Big Bazaar allocates an hour of no interference from regular shoppers and allows autistic children to shop at their will.
Anjali said during the Covid -19 outbreak, autistic kids are among the most disciplined bunch who just need a set of instructions and visuals as well as manuals for protocols to sink in. All the SOCH kids have their own Covid-19 workstations at home on which they continue to create wonderful merchandise.
Anjali said, “My son was around three-year-old when I was told that he doesn’t communicate like others. I began observing him and other kids. Doctors couldn’t diagnose clearly and said it was just a phase. Confused, I took him to Delhi, where I learnt that he was autistic. At the National Centre for Autism, I met Merry Barua, who changed my life. She taught me positive ways to deal with autistic kids. She had been fighting since the time autism wasn’t even a recognised disability. She fought with the Government of India to get it recognised. Her positive energy still prods me on. It is due to her that I got the vision to make the SOCH.”
She took lessons as a special educator and had various sessions to understand how to bring up her son.
A small entrepreneur and housewife before the SOCH took off, Anjali started reaching out to other mothers.
“I wanted to talk to those affected by autism and share what I learnt. So, we started holding group therapy sessions at my garage and gradually, the network grew. We had a mountain of difficulties to deal with in terms of infrastructure. I had to search for schools to get my son admitted. Friends running Bawa Lalwani School in Kapurthala helped me. Now, things have moved further and many schools are giving admission to autistic kids, but a lot more needs to be done,” she said.
AnjaIi teaches numerous schoolteachers and parents on autism today.
What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a broad range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and non-verbal communication. There is an illustrious list of those with autism who broke glass ceilings. While the world’s famous autistic geniuses include environmental activist Greta Thunberg, and Mary Temple Grandin, author of more than 60 peer-reviewed scientific papers, on varied animal behaviour subjects. Both have been featured in the Time magazine. In India, iconic autistic people include Pranav Bakshi, the first model on the autism spectrum, and Alyx Albuquerque, founder of Pumpkin Patch, a design studio.
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