Allow me to introduce you to another gem on the Autism spectrum, Neerada. She writes poetry and also writes about current affairs and many topics close to her heart. She shatters myths about Autism, such as lack of empathy. Read on and discover another wonderful person on the spectrum!
Let’s start by chatting with Neerada’s mom, Mini.
Q) Tell us about your Autism journey so far.
I am Mini, a home maker and my husband is Saseendran, a chartered accountant. We have two children, Navaneeth Krishnan, my son and Neerada my daughter who is 15 year old.
Our journey with autism started on June 2004, 13 years ago. Neerada had no milestone delays but her speech was not good. At 2 years, she had Chickenpox and after that sudden regression occurred in speech and behaviour. We were shocked when doctor diagnosed her condition as PDD and found it very difficult to accept our fate. There were not many facilities in Calicut those days hence started home schooling at the age of 2 and 1/2 years, in addition to speech and physio therapies.
We used to talk to her about everything whether or not she listened, took her to the park, the beach etc. almost everyday. Her highly sensitive nature and frequent tantrums were difficult to manage. Lot of these difficulties faded away and a few new ones appeared during the course of our journey. It was difficult for many of our immediate relatives to accept Neerada, and we lost touch with them.
I had a very sincere domestic help at home , she taught Neerada, Malayalam. She used to stay with us as I was working in LIC. Doctors and therapists advised us to stick to one language. I used to talk to her about emotions and feelings while story telling.
After, one year of special school and two years of inclusive school, we did not find any improvement in Neerada. Then we moved to Chennai, where Neerada showed very good progress.
Soon, our entire family shifted to Bahrain as my husband got a job there. It was a great turning point in our lives . Neerada was admitted in RIA, a centre owned by Mrs. Christine Gordon having an autistic son. Neerada’s teacher in charge was Mrs. Ann.
Mrs. Ann taught her alphabets, numbers, fine and gross motor skills. She was very strict. She told me that we can use our mother tongue at home but I must follow her books and teach in English. I was surprised at the way Neerada started picking up things. Once she was thorough with the basics, Ann would read big story books to Neerada. Then, sent it to me with a note,"I finished this book with Neerada now it is your turn".
I used to wonder how would I do it? But Neerada surprised me by pointing at the words I asked.
When I was sure that she could read independently, I stopped asking her ,"what is this? what is that? because it would be insulting to her.
When Neerada was 10, I read an article about spelling contest where the winner spelled the word ‘ Psymotrichous’. Later, I asked her ‘Do you know the meaning?’, she wrote ‘ My mother’s hair is psymotrichous’ ( means wavy hair). I was stunned!
I started asking her questions and giving multiple choice answers. She would circle the answers. She listens to everything, even the news channels. She is highly sensitive to sensory issues so she often yells at home.
My son encouraged her to type in his laptop. She started answering questions with yes/no. After some days she started writing sentences and then poems. She started writing about family, nature, current affairs, etc.
Neerada’s poem ON REFUGEES
Yet another Syrian war
Really i hate wars
Treat the world equal
Help life bloom
Everyday we used to chat with her. When she would fall sick she would describe what was wrong with her.
She has a very close friend Sherin, autistic girl from Kochi, with whom she communicates through WhatsApp. Doctors said autistic kids have no feelings but Neerada can’t sleep the night before her brother’s exam results are published. Our children have feelings, empathy, sympathy, everything, but they have difficulty expressing or reacting, so they are treated as kids with no feelings.
Neerada is 15 now years old. We have to work a lot on her self reliance and tantrums . But I feel relieved that she can do many of her daily activities without help. She can communicate all basic needs verbally too.
We use fingers as options too. Thumb for yes and little finger for no , as we can't carry an iPad everywhere.
I pray that we have a very long and healthy life and Neerada could spend a long happy life with her family. On Neerada’s urge to have her father with her, he resigned his job and came back to India.
At the time of diagnosis I doubted how I could lead my life as it seemed very difficult to me. But 13 years have passed, I feel more relaxed now.
I remember my son, had difficulties in the beginning but by God’s grace he overcame. But he encouraged her a lot. While taking her out he would talk to her about different subjects, some she liked and some she did not. Still he kept on sharing.
My husband is very patient, homely and gives me freedom in managing all family related affairs. Only because of his patience and love we could overcome the stress and uncertainty after the diagnosis.
My mother was always by my side and understood my daughter very well.
My younger brother and his family took care of my son whenever I was away with Neerada
Her dear cousins treated her lovingly.
My son's friends showered her with brotherly love.
I thank all the therapists, teachers, friends, siblings who gave me courage to overcome my challenges.
Q) Your advice for other Autism parents.
I would not advise others. Still I wish to tell my fellow parents , never speak negatively about your children and never let others harm their self esteem. Even when you go to doctors take a note about your child’s problems. We have to advocate for our children. We must find a mode of communication for our children to express their needs, PECS or fingers or computer or writing or anything. Autistic children love peace and harmony at home. So parents must try their maximum to never spoil their happiness. Respect our children.
Q) How did you encourage Neerada’s talent in poetry?
When Neerada was diagnosed as autistic I started buying lots and lots of books . I showed her the pictures, told her stories, at the end asked different questions and she pointed out answers. In that way I taught her feelings too.
We read newspaper together and she listens to news channels, National Geograhic, Animal Planet etc.
I felt she was not much interested in reading serious poems written by famous poets, instead she enjoys very short poems. Ruskin bond is her most favourite writer and she has read many of his works .
When we chat Neerada says I have some good lines or I have a poem like that. She spends lot of time in bed and says she is thinking. She will not make any corrections, keeps the full poem ready in her mind and then writes it down. If the poem is too long she will finish it the next day. We have published her poems in two books Tender Tweets and Dew Drops through Autism Club, Calicut . Lot of her poems are yet to be published. We are waiting for a good publisher.
Kindle my heart
Hopes the little bird
Kindle my mood
Chirped the cuckoo
Kindle my mind
Mooed the cow
Kindle my hopes
Hissed the cobra
Kindle my tweets
Yawned the parrot
Kindle my dance
Urged the peacock
Kindle my poems
God is confused
But he listened to all
Neerada with Minister for Social Justice on launch of her second book.
Now, let’s chat with Neerada. She writes down her answers and doesn’t use capital letters.
Q) When did you start writing poetry?
i absolutely don't know. but i think in my dreams i have been writing poems since my early childhood, may be in my ammas womb . but i could write down only recently.
Q) Tell us about your school.
many schools.at some school the entire system of schooling is just harassing. tried many . most loved is ria at bahrain . now attending smile having loving youthful teachers and truly good friends . attended a camp.
start right is also good i felt . for me best school is home . my family teaches lot of things . etta talks about great things while travelling . i love family .
Q) What are your hobbies Neerada?
fantasies dreaming, riding in car, day dreaming, watching leaves fluttering in air, yearning for good goings in family , imagining poems
Q) How do you spend your day?
i deliberately lie down with a shawl and inside the dream tent i go to the world of fantasies. i do help amma in simple household chores. i help cooking, cleaning, washing ,closing gate, serving etc.
Q) I hear you are a fan of our PM, Mr. Modi, would you like to tell us why?
he is highly charismatic. he is a good speaker. people listen to him spell bound. really no negative campaigning weakens him . me and my etta (brother) great fans of dear pm.
Neerada’s Poem ON PRIME MINISTER MR. MODI
Just get ready to good indian years
On the leadership of Modi
He is powerful ambitious
And extremely dreamful
For digital india
For make in india
For friendly india
And for a clean india
Let our country flourish
Q) You are also interested in current affairs, how do you follow them, newspaper or TV? A few details please.
tv and my brothers talks in car
i like news, no serials
i read newspapers with amma. yes, i am following news channels, animal planet.
Neerada’s Poem ON DEMONETISATION
Yet with just queue
Of no idea how to have
Poor and rich
Men and women
But bear with government
Oh dears for your problems
Let our country flourish
And we too emerge great
Q) Would you like to share your future plans with us?
to become self reliant and purple girl
Q) Any parting thoughts …
i owe my success to my amma who leads me happily to every thing . she is simply an avatar of goddess parvathy. i cant miss her in my life.
A brief chat with Neerada’s brother, Navaneeth
Q) Would you like to share a few experiences of growing up with Neerada?
It was not always pleasant like it is now, but I guess that is all part of it. But all that is in the past and it doesn’t matter one bit. I know how much she loves me and that is all that matters.
Q) How do you two like to spend time together?
We do random things but mostly, it is me taking her for a drive around town in the evenings,playing her favourite songs. When father was abroad I used to take her for walks. It was with me and mother she started her first communications.
Q) Any suggestions for other Autism siblings?
None. I have no suggestions that might really be of any help. I just know my sister and take care of her. I really can’t make suggestions to others, and I don’t think anyone would take them anyway.
With unconditional love and support from her family, Neerada has come a long way and I hope and pray, may all her dreams come true!