My life with Autism

(Wrote this article on request for an anthroposophic compilation)

I first met autism when I was 20, fresh out of college with a degree in psychology. I didn’t know anything about it. I interned at a special school for slow learners during the summer.

There was this young boy with autism. My mindset expected someone with severe learning problems and intellectual challenges. But what he showed me instead was a genius! A mathematical genius! I was completely taken aback. I also saw the he would repeat the same sentence over and over, not make eye contact and not socialise with anyone. He would just repeat that one line and effortlessly solve big sums without even going through the process.

The second boy I saw in the same school was an artist, obsessed with the Disney movie Alladin. He would draw marvellous pictures of scenes from the movie. He could not tolerate changes in routine. He once threw a duster at me as I didn’t turn up for the usual class!

Then in the year 2001 I had a student who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

His obsessions were with straws, railway timetables and the composer Yanni. He was the first one to show me capacities that were beyond normal human comprehension. He wrote profound passages on how he perceived the world and how the world perceived him. Through him I learnt that telepathy was real. He would read my mind.

After that I met many children who showed me that there was much to know beyond what was obvious. They crossed the lines drawn by the typical human senses and gave me glimpses of what lay beyond. Their moms knew they were mind readers, philosophers and scientists trapped in bodies that wouldn’t cooperate with their great minds. They could not know whether their boys were disabled or geniuses.

Soon I grew restless and discontent with the kind of the one sided cognitively based method I was following. It did no justice to their true being. We were teaching them the alphabet when they were talking philosophy. We had find a way to connect the alphabet to their true being.

What intrigued me was that the boy who spoke of “love being the only knowledge worth gaining” was jumping uncontrollably on the bed. My mind was too perplexed to accept these two facets simultaneously as were the parents.

2008 was the year that destiny led me to anthroposophy, the philosophy that changed my paradigm- on autism, on parenting, on education and on life itself.

Seeing my restlessness, Michael Kokinos, one of my first mentors invited me to walk with him. They were the few steps that changed how I look at children and myself as a therapist.

*The first lesson that I learnt in anthroposophic understanding from Michael was about the connection between the therapist and the child we work with. It was a learning that would shape my following years as a Curative Educator.

No matter what the therapy, the most important thing that brings about a change in the child is the connection or the bond that is formed between the therapist/teacher and child. A bond based on respect understanding and unconditional acceptance. All work can be built upon that relationship of trust.

*I learnt from my mentors that the intellect of the autistic children is intact. It was their ‘will’ that we had to strengthen through their physical body using specific techniques so that it would cooperate a little more in accomodating their expanded consciousness and help them be more embodied and grounded.

*I learnt that they had sensitive bodies that reacted adversely to factors in the environment and made them behave in ways that may not exist otherwise in cleaner, purer environs.

*I learnt that there are many aspects to a human being that need to be well balanced for a human being to be healthy and well adjusted, even if they have autism.

Anthroposophy revealed to me the truth behind the spiritual/subtle aspects of being autistic, glimpses of which my students had been revealing to me in all the preceding years.

This was about the same time when the boom in social media and technology started connecting the world autism community of parents, therapists and the autists themselves, who looked at autism from the same expanded spiritual perspective that anthroposophy had introduced me to.

Today, non speaking autists are speaking out…they speak, or communicate through keyboards, letter boards and telepathically through their moms!

Many of them now write books to teach the world about what it is to be autistic

They confirmed everything that I learnt from my mentors in the anthroposophic conference.

Armed with this expanded awareness, I set out to serve these children in a way I believe they deserved to be served, with with love and respect, on an equal footing. With a knowing that I need this child in my life as much as he needs me.

To help parents see that it’s not the children that need fixing, but the way we raise them, by parenting consciously and by strengthening oneself. As for the children, all we have to do is to let them shine with their unique strengths and accept them the way they are.

I now work with the community of parents, teachers and others through consultations, workshops and writings, trying share my truth of who these children really are,

To summarise my learnings, my truths on autism are:

– to look beyond the apparently uncooperative physical bodies at the

*true being within who, though non speaking understands what is being spoken about him, in his very presence.

*The being, though he cannot express emotions, he can not only feel the emotion of the other but takes the pain of the other as his own, because he cannot separate himself from the other.

*The being that is communicating all the time even while not uttering a single word. One that is ready to reveal a whole other world to one who is ready to listen.

*The being who is capable of many achievements from college degrees to holding jobs to learning and mastering skills that are unique.

*To talk to people about learning to be comfortable with people who are not like themselves.

Children with autism are bringing to light the concept of neurodiversity in our world.

Like his sister tells Auggie in the movie Wonder, “you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out”.

And since they are now speaking, to learn about autism from the autists themselves, by reading the blogs, articles and the numerous books that they are writing everyday.

I’m grateful for the opportunities that I’m being given to share my perspectives on autism and I do sincerely hope that it can make some difference in the life of a child and help a family to find joy in living and evolving with autism.

Nirupama Rao

Psychologist and Curative Educator,

Mumbai

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