The Neurodiverse: Where are they?

 

 

Edited by Aneesha Chandra

 

All of us have different ways of functioning; our behaviour, thought processes, physical and mental abilities are different. However, society has set certain norms and standards for “normal” behaviour and thus, many who do not fit into this standard are termed “disabled”.

Over the years, sensitisation efforts and awareness campaigns have led to an acceptance (though still severely lacking) of people who function differently from the rest of “normal” society. The terms preferred now are ‘neurodiverse’ or ‘differently abled’. Both the terms do not cause an “othering” or negative perception of people as disabled or abnormal. Rather, they are terms meant to signify a different way of functioning and acceptance and support for the individuals who might need assistance from their community. Some common conditions that come under the term ‘neurodiverse’ are autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and ADHD.

According to a medical study by National Technology of Bio-medical Information, around three million children in India lie on the autistic spectrum, needing support and assistance from parents, the education system, peers, medical professionals and society at large. And this is the statistic only for autistic children — just one of the many neurodiverse conditions. But where are these children? Have you seen them in your schools? Have you played with them? Have you met them and decided they are not fit to be your friends or thought of them as weird? Are there proper counselling centres for them in schools and colleges? 

Numerous questions come to mind regarding the whereabouts of these children. Having worked on these issues and having spoken to professionals, it is observed that many of the differently abled children remain hidden from the public for various reasons. Parents are often embarrassed about their children, peers do not support them, they are not understood in school and are often considered lacking in intellectual development — all of this creates a dismal environment for a child to live in. Nonetheless, efforts are being made to sensitise society about this state of affairs and bring about a change. 

Ashoka is a case in point. The campus has children who are differently abled, not only in terms of mental functioning but also physical. There are individuals with autism, dyslexia, ADHD, students who are deaf and mute, blind, and those who have other physical impairments. The university provides these students with professional and peer support programmes, ensuring that they can pursue their dreams and goals to the fullest extent. Their presence also sensitises other students to understand and accept differences, extend and mobilise support for their peers. 

Besides academics, neurodiverse children are also given support in various other activities to uncover their interests and talents. Many are talented and passionate about music, theatre,and even sports. Sports and music therapy have proven to be helpful for children to develop coordination, confidence, balance, the ability to discover what they like and to be open to new experiences. 

In the course of my internships, I met two young people, both of whom were autistic. One of them was learning the piano while the other was taking vocal training. While speaking, the two of them did not make eye-contact and answered only when they wished to. However, with music training, they were opening up to more people. I saw the transformation taking place right there. When asked to sing, the child boldly stood up and began singing with so much confidence that he looked like a completely different person. Similarly, the child who played the piano played not one but four songs for us for a whole half an hour! She was in her own space, enjoying every moment. They had found themselves and their voice in music, and were willing to share this experience with everyone. 

In another instance, I met a sports therapist who trains autistic children and those with neurodevelopmental deficiencies to develop a sense of coordination, balance, ability to navigate spaces, sense of direction and confidence in one’s own body. A total of ten to twelve children are under the therapist’s supervision. In the initial days of coaching, the kids were shy, could not follow instructions, and had no sense of balance or confidence in themselves. They could not ride a cycle, hit a ball with a bat, catch a ball or run in a straight line. Gradually, with immense patience, empathy, and encouragement, the children developed the skills to engage in various sports activities. There was truly a remarkable change in them! In about nine months, some of them could even skate without any support. 

These are just some of the ways in which neurodiverse children can be helped and supported. Experts from various disciplines are coming together to nurture the differently abled. Such efforts take time and require a lot of patience, care, and love to be given to the children. But that does not mean it is an impossible task. Rather, to have a truly inclusive and diverse society, acknowledging, accepting, and supporting the neurodiverse is the need of the hour.