Autism Ashram— A Residential Home that Connects and Gives Life to Children with Autism
Differently-abled children are perhaps the most excluded and marginalized groups in society. They are discriminated against in many forms and their rights to education and healthcare are barely honored. Parents find it challenging to take care of persons with autism. To address this grave problem, a residential home was started in Hyderabad in 2009 to give persons with autism a shot at life.
Autism Ashram is also known as CFS (care4autism society)was established to support autistic children and adults. Mansi Bagwe is the current director of this Ashram. The President, Mr A. K. Kundra, who has been caring for persons with autism for the past 35 years, explained what autism is and about the void filled by the Ashram in the society.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder and is one of the fastest-growing disabilities in the world. The symptoms include poor eye contact, difficulty in communicating with others verbally or otherwise, restricted and repetitive behavior, and general inability to have normal social interaction. If a child is among others, he/she will be in his own world due to autism. He/she stays aloof to avoid having to talk to others. Boys are more prone to autism than girls and the number of cases of autism has rapidly increased in the last few years. Parents often wonder why God has chosen them or their child for this kind of suffering. They fall into emotional turmoil after getting to know that their child is autistic.
It is very important for a family to identify the problem early and accept the child’s disability. Autism in children is generally first observed at the age of 18-24 months. A Pediatrician or child psychiatrist or psychologist will be able to diagnose and confirm whether the child is autistic or not.. Once the health professional confirms the diagnosis, the parents should reach out for help to ensure early intervention. Early acceptance can give superior results in managing and controlling the child’s condition.
The Autism Ashram was set up when the Director came across an 8-year-old autistic student, Vijay. He heard from his school staff members that Vijay had poor eye contact while speaking, that he tore up papers and had several other behavioral issues. When Mr Kundra was in England, he spoke about this to his professors. It was then that he came to know about autism. He returned to India with the desire to do something for such children. Initially, a small unit was set up in the main school to teach them. Then around 11 years ago, when Mansi Bagwe came back to Hyderabad from England, she and Kundra started a separate unit to help and fulfill the special needs of children with autism.
Mr. Kundra narrated the story of Mr. Sharma, the father of an autistic son, who was willing to adopt a 24-year-old man. Mr. Sharma’s primary expectation from the adopted man was that he would look after his differently-abled son after he passed on. Mr. Kundra questioned this assumption and explained the uncertainty and challenges he would face if he adopted that man, as nothing could be guaranteed. He asked Sharma what would happen if the man abandoned his differently-abled child and went away at some point. He advised him to look for an organization that served differently-abled children with morals, love, ethics, rules, and regulations in place. Later, Mr. Kundra decided to set up a residential facility for Mr. Sharma’s differently-abled son. People suggested that he take up a house so that they could leave their children there. But he rejected the idea because autistic children and adults need ample space to move freely around as they wish. So he purchased about 10 acres of land with 54 rooms. And within no time every room was occupied by children. The Ashram has a unique care system called a one-to-one care unit meaning one child for one care unit. When Mr. Kundra started this Ashram his wife Jyotsna had two conditions. The first was that he would live with the children to support them and be available to them at all times. Secondly, he would eat the same food as the children so that its quality was assured.
As a residential home, the Ashram takes care of four crucial needs of autistic children.
- Safety: The child’s safety is maintained both indoors and outdoors, 24/7
- Hygiene: Every child’s room is kept spic and span, and his/her clothing and bedsheets are washed and kept clean
- Exercise: Autistic children tend to put on a lot of weight, hence an exercise regimen ensures that they remain fit
- Happiness & Well-being: Safe and comfortable environment, love and care ensures well-being
The biggest worry of parents of persons with autism is what will happen to the child after they are gone. Who will take care of them?
The Autism Ashram was established just to take care of this big question It is the first of its kind in India, developed to help children and adults and to answer the question “After us what?”. It is one of the largest such facilities in Asia, with 54 children living together under one roof with the rare feature of only one child in a room. The kind of environment, programs, space, schedule and routine we have put in place keeps the children healthy and happy,” says Mr. Kundra.
Once a child joins the Ashram he can stay there throughout his life. These facilities are what gives the Ashram its reputation and its success and fulfill the aims and objectives of the organization. One must salute Mr. Kundra – it takes enormous courage, dedication, and determination to start and maintain an organization for the differently-abled.
Speaking to unsungs team, Mr. Kundra said, “Indians always try to contribute to society in one way or the other, this kind of work should reach people and they should know that an oasis-like Autism Ashram exists in the desert” it’s not just about autism, it could be done for any other disability as well. It would inspire more people to dedicate time and energy and contribute their savings to build many more Ashrams for caring for the differently-abled”.