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Dr. Vandana Sharma

MBCN’s Quest for Holistic Development of Children with Autism

As the world celebrates April 2 as World Autism Day, activists are trying to heighten the awareness and how people with autism can get treated.

Understanding Autism

Autism is a lifelong neurological condition, a developmental disorder that typically occurs in the first three years of life. Autism manifests as differences in development in three main areas: communication (verbal and non-verbal), social interactions and imagination, which can be seen in repetitive and restricted play or leisure activities. Many individuals with autism have different ways of ‘sensing’ their world. For example, some may not like being touched gently but prefer a firm hold. Others may have difficulty in brushing their teeth or having a haircut. Given these differences in communication, social interaction, imagination, in ‘sensing’ their world, many people with autism may have very unusual behaviors and atypical ways of relating to people, objects and events in the environment. As a result, they are often mistakenly thought to be ‘disobedient’ or ‘badly behaved’.

Autism is not a rare or uncommon disorder. It is the third most common developmental disorder, more common than Down Syndrome. Recent international studies show that about one in 68 people have autism and the overall incidence of autism is believed to be consistent around the globe. This means that there are over 18 million people with autism in India. At this point in time, the causes of autism are unknown.

Role of MBCN

Mata Bhagwanti Chadha Niketan is one institution in India where rehabilitation of more than 1000 specially- abled children is undertaken. Spread in an area of 2 acres, this is a part of The Ponty Chadha Foundation under the philanthropic wing of the Wave Group. As its corporate social responsibility, the Group trains autistic children to develop social skills so that they can mingle with the society in a positive way. It is a charitable organisation that is dedicated to take care of these children. It is the largest day care special school.

MBCN has a special section to address the needs of autistic children. The school has 94 such children out of 1000 different disabilities children. The staff closely works for holistic and complete learning which aims at maximising their potential in daily activities, communication, social understanding, play and leisure. The training programmes start with an initial assessment of the child. Based on the child’s strengths, behaviours, learning patterns, and the teaching and learning methods best suited to him/her, an individualised educational plan is made keeping in mind the child’s current needs as well as the parents’ immediate concerns.

The school believes that if people with autism are to have an opportunity to reach their maximum potential, the community of parents, siblings, other relatives and professionals will have to continue to work together as a team

Use of Technology

The school uses the latest assistive technology to improve expression in children with autism. The school has developed an android application VAAKYA which can be used as a very effective and useful tool for alternative augmentative communication especially for individuals with autism. It can be a valuable asset for them to express themselves.

VAAKYA is an extremely diverse and flexible AAC application which does not rely on internet connectivity. The custom information added to the application such as user accounts/actions are stored within the application itself. This utilises the phone’s own memory, thereby marginally increasing the size of the application depending on user accounts/actions created.

Multiple User Accounts: Educators, rehabilitation professionals, can add multiple students/patients to the application with unique actions and speech relatable to each individual. This reduces cost as most applications available can register only one user on each device and would require multiple devices for different individuals.

Language Flexibility: Speech associated with actions can be recorded and played back in any language.

Image/Action Flexibility: Images for actions can be replaced with existing images on a user’s device or through the user’s camera device directly. Additional actions can be added to each user’s account.

Flexibility of Use: Parents/guardians can use the application differently by adding situations instead of users and images associated with each situation for the individual.

Integrated Shopping Portal

The school website, apart from providing quick and easy access to essential information about the school, therapies, success stories, counselling, etc., now also includes an integrated shopping portal. This portal allows customers to buy handmade products made by the special children of the school. These products are the outcome of years of vocational training which is given to these children. The profit earned from the sale of these products is given back to them.

“The school believes that if people with autism are to have an opportunity to reach their maximum potential, the community of parents, siblings, other relatives and professionals will have to continue to work together as a team”

With the help of this portal, people can admire the work of these special children. The shopping menu consists of different product categories like wedding gifts, packaging items, office stationery, paper bags, etc. Product details like price, size and other specifications have been mentioned along with customer reviews as well. The prospective buyers can log on to the school’s website, select the products and add to the shopping cart using the simple user interface.

Dr. Vandana Sharma is Director, Mata Bhagwanti Chadha Niketan. She carries 23 years of rich experience in the field of disability. She started MBCN Charitable School for Children with Special Needs in 1999 with 20 children. She is a trained special educator from National Institute for Mentally Handicapped (Ministry of Social Justice, Govt. of India)