Beautiful Minds by Husna Mohammad
Rahul: The Math Genius
The continuous line of students and their high pitched chatter filled the room. They were all waiting for their turn, for the dental screening scheduled at the school. The happy smiles and naughty demeanour, conveyed their joy to be away from the regimented classrooms, even if it was for a while.
In a distant corner was a young man, sitting quietly, looking around, oblivious to the noise around him, lost in his own world, in a room full of people. Next to him was a Lady, talking to him on and off and giving instructions. There was this beatific aura around him, as though internally he knew the secrets of the universe. For some reason, I was instantly drawn to this child. With a cue from his teacher, he wished me shyly when his turn came. And in the next instance, turned away and looked at some distant spot behind me, outside the window.
At first he seemed not to hear, what I was telling him. And then in a flash, he connected the Intra Oral Camera used for Dental Screening himself, placed it inside his mouth, and showed me the exact status of his Oral Health Index on the monitor. I realised he was observing me from a distance. I couldn’t help but smile, and told him I was going to give a Golden Star to his dental report. He smiled, a knowing smile as if to say, “See, Ma’m I know more than you think I do.”
More than astonished, my heart went out to this amazing child. His teacher told me that Rahul (name changed), though autistic, was gifted. At 13, he was a mathematical genius, and could solve any algebraic/calculus problem given to him. He also loves gadgets.
Rahul attended regular school, and though he could not connect emotionally with other children, his IQ and skill levels were at a much higher scale. He is compulsive, cannot tolerate noise, and is finicky about order and regularity. I spent some time with Rahul, asking questions about school and his friends. Some he answered vaguely and others he chose to ignore. As the queue of waiting students, became longer, I had to let him go. “Thank you, ma’m,” he said, this time again confining his gaze to the instruments placed on the table, and yet I could hear him repeating my name over and over in a rhythm, as he left the room. Nothing has ever sounded more beautiful to me. Rahul had left a deep imprint in my mind, his face will always remind me of the beautiful minds, dwelling in worlds so different from our own…
Karthik : The Maestro
“I have a dream, a fantasy. To help me through reality…”
Karthik Kumar’s melodious voice permeated the open air, bringing a tear in every eye, that were present. Those who were used to seeing him knew, where the words were coming from. He is a musical genius, and started singing even before he could talk. Though autistic, thanks to the amazing support group of his family, teachers and friends, Karthik has transcended and defied the “mould” which the world defines and confines the “differently abled”. He is 15 and lives in Dubai and his world is all about music. For a child who cannot comprehend or communicate effectively, music is his link to the outside world. He has amazing sense of timing, and can sing in any language. He can play the piano by the ear, in perfect pitch, and strum the guitar. He is a student of the Al Noor Training Centre For Special Needs Children, Dubai.
He was diagnosed with autism at the tender age of 3, but that did not stop his family in realising the genius that lay within and nurturing him to grow to his full potential. Karthik knows almost 2,000 songs by heart and can also identify the name of the album, movie, musician and composer of the song. His prized possession is a collection of around 3,000 CDS and audio cassettes, which he has arranged in a symmetrical order in his cupboard. Tell him a title, and he will pick it out for you in a second from there. He enthrals thousands of his fans with his melody and tenor, a voice that seems to emanate from the depths of his soul, touching the hearts of all those who hear him.
Rahul and Karthik share the same journey as thousands like them around the world. They are Autistic Savants. One in 10 children diagnosed with autism displays amazing abilities, brilliance and talent. These skills are so spectacular that even a gifted abled person may not be able to display. One aspect of their cognitive development is highly advanced while the other deficient. But rather than let that affect them, kids like Rahul and Karthik have defied conventions, to claim their individual identities, with amazing and unconditional support from their family and mentors.
It is a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and involves delays and impairment in social skills, social understanding, social relationships, language, and behaviour. It affects different people differently. Autism in its literal sense means “loneliness”. Affected children usually are aloof, cannot interact socially and will not elicit emotional responses.
Autism for the longest period was considered to be untreatable, but understanding of the condition has advanced so much, that one of the most effective methods have been Applied Behavioural Analysis along with dietary and medical interventions, that has changed the lives of millions.
Applied Behavioural Analysis: Light at the end of the tunnel
ABA involves therapists who work dedicatedly, on a one-on-one basis with the child for several hours a week. Children are taught skills in a simplified step by step manner. Once this is mastered, the focus shifts towards more complex skills in a very slow paced repetitive manner, until they are trained in them.
A study published by Dr.Ivar Lovaas at UCLA involved 2 years of Applied Behavioural Analysis following a 40-hour a week period with trained graduate students who worked with 19 young autistic children ranging from 3 -4 years of age. Half of the children showed so much improvement that they were indistinguishable from typical kids and went on to lead fairly normal lives. ABA has now been accepted as the most effective therapy for children with autism.
Parents are also encouraged to have a training course in ABA so that they can provide it themselves at home. Other cognitive developmental skills include Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Relation Developmental Therapy.
Hope for an incredible future
Experts advise the following:
- Get guidance and consultation from medical experts who are specialised in the field of Autism
- A support system comprising of parents, siblings, teachers, aides and friends is very crucial in the development of an autistic child. Just showing that they understand makes a world of difference sometimes.This is a point that cannot be emphasised enough
- Identify a child’s interest/talent and encourage that instead of being fixated on his deficiencies. Karthik and Rahul are a prime example of that. Nurturing that particular talent will help them develop it as their future career
- Higher functioning children can attend school, but they may require an aide, and an individual educational plan
- Join support groups to learn and understand this complex condition and your child. It helps to interact with other parents, and learning how each one has dealt with the condition effectively
- Few children with autism appear to respond to a gluten-free or casein-free diet. Gluten is found in foods containing wheat, rye, and barley. Casein is found in milk, cheese, and other dairy products. Not all experts agree that dietary changes will make a difference, and not all studies of this method have shown positive results. Talk to your doctor and dietician before you follow a diet plan for your child
A beautiful mind
“Autism is not a puzzle, or a disease. It is a challenge, but certainly not a devastating one. Autism is about having a pure heart and being very sensitive… It is about finding a way to survive in an overwhelming, confusing world. It is about developing differently, in a different pace and with different leaps. Autistic beings develop and bloom if their spirits, talents and self-esteem are not destroyed by bullies, prejudices, ‘doggie-training’, and being forced to be ‘normal’.” ~ Trisha Van Berkel