Posted by Sarbani Mallick of Biswa Gauri Charitable Trust, Bengaluru. The Trust works towards empowerment and enhancement of individuals with autism and other developmental challenges.
“It takes a village to raise a child. With this virtual platform, we have literally become a village. The classes have the parents, siblings and all at home participating in the teaching and learning experience!” says Nilima Mukherji.
Nilima is the Program Head of Bubbles Centre for Autism, an initiative of Biswa Gouri Charitable Trust. Through vocational and life skill training, the Centre strives to create valued social roles and a sense of self-worth.
We found various forms of art to be the best way to tackle social, communication and behaviour challenges of persons on the autism spectrum. Our intervention is based on a person-centred approach, but we reach out to people from the community to achieve inclusion.
We host events on festivals and open the centre to community of students, their families, corporate volunteers, donors and well-wishers. Our students perform to showcase their abilities. We often invite performers from outside to create an inclusive environment. These events and celebrations are attended by as many as 400-500 Bangaloreans.
In March, COVID-19 left us all at sea. We did not know how to keep our big family afloat. Slowly, we started to breathe in. We worked to create a structure and routine to bring in predictability that is a requisite for most children with autism. Our focus was to engage the students in familiar activities that they enjoyed. We preferred using things that were easily available at home. Our approach had to shift from an organisation based intervention programme to a family-based one. However, it continues to be person-centric. Now, the school premises have merged with home and teachers with families, bringing down the wall between both the stakeholders.
“Family empowerment and engaging families as co-therapists is one of the cornerstones of the program presently” says Meenakshy, Program Head, Digital Literacy Unit at Pragati towards Livelihood, a training initiative for adults with autism.
This was the best way learning could happen. The families followed the instructions to a T. The power of collectives to find and sustain solutions came to our rescue. One of our corporate partners provided us with a video conferencing platform to get connected virtually. Our friends and well-wishers from the corporate world, NGO partners, and donors have all extended their support in the last three months.
They also supported us in creating home-based teaching / learning materials. Many volunteers from IT companies helped us make presentations on activities for the parents. After one and a half months of struggle, we finally, had things in place almost like pre-pandemic days.
Yet, we did not seem to address one of our main concerns for persons with autism – social skills. These skills have to be honed continuously for individual development and social acceptance of this vulnerable group. The challenge was – how to attain social inclusion in times of social distancing. Initially, the thought seemed impossible. Then gradually, we began small events with the families. The intention was also to add an element of fun and respite beyond the formal training sessions. It would also help spread hope, warmth and togetherness.
As we became successful with family based programmes, we took a bigger step and tried to organise our first webinar to commemorate World Autism Awareness Day in April with 200 people. Since then, we have not looked back. Now, we regularly host festivals and events to remain socially engaged within and beyond our own community.
Recently, we celebrated Autism Pride Day to bring forth the talent of the individuals on the spectrum. It gave us immense pleasure to have one of our ex-students as a performer. We had 300 people as audience including our team and students along with their families, volunteers and well-wishers. We organise such large events once a month on a Friday. It seems to be like the old times at the Centre. We meet, interact with each other and cheer the performers.
We have come to realise that our events in the physical setting probably had a limited reach. Today, on the new digital platform, we are able to share our mission and voice with many more.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” ― Mother Teresa
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