When Simmi Vasu started noticing how her 2-year-old son Karthik was not able to start walking, or being able to sit on his own, she did what any new-age parent would do. She googled about the delays, hoping the internet would whip up an answer that is not too serious. “The first reaction that any parent has before their child is diagnosed with autism or any other mental health problem is denial. I went through the same thing. We kept thinking he would be fine as he grows up,” Vasu says.
A few web searches made her suspect that her child could be showing signs of autism, but when she approached the doctor, he completely dissuaded her from taking any course of action to establish a mental disability. However, none of the doctors were able to diagnose why her son Karthik was unable to achieve the milestones like walking that are easily done by a child of his age.
After spending hours on the internet and reading up all about autism, Vasu went to an early intervention centre to get her son checked. Months of reading up had prepared her for the result, which was just a formality at this point. Twelve years later, Vasu is now the vice-principal of a special school in Noida and was also involved with an early intervention facility for autism. “Early intervention is what my child did not have. So I decided to become a special educator and make sure that no parent, who comes to me, goes through what I went through,” Vasu said.
Like Simmi Vasu, these mothers were in a state of denial, but once doctors confirmed their child had autism, they pulled themselves up from spiralling into a depressive state and educated themselves about their child’s condition. “Every parent has to read up a lot about the condition in order to figure out what challenges their children face. Only then will they understand what the doctors are saying,” says Pragya Sharma, whose son Varenya was diagnosed when he was 2.
Something Munmun Bhattacharjee felt she was inching closer to after doctors said her child was beyond help. “The doctors told us we were too late. If we had come six months earlier, they could’ve helped my child. They told us that my child would never be okay. We felt as if our world would come crashing down. How else would a parent react when they are told that their child would never be okay?” says Bhattacharjee, whose son Mahaan was diagnosed when he was 13 months old.
According to a 2014 research by the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 85% of Indian mothers of differently-abled children are prone to clinical depression. therefore, a lot of parents come up with their own coping mechanisms, like Pragya who bonds with her child through music or Simmi who started running marathons in her 40s.
If you ask either of these mothers, they will say that raising a differently-abled child is the same as raising any other kid. All they want parents to know is that the disability is not the death-knell.