Vinayak is a 20 year old boy who has Autism. He is an inspiration to many and is also trying to spread awareness about Autism in his own way!
Everyone in Vinayak’s family was ecstatic to welcome a baby boy into the world when he was born. Vinayak’s sister Suvi was impatiently awaiting the return of her infant brother. Suvi, 10 at the time, was excited to meet her chota bhai. Suvi used to play with Vinayak the entire time when he got home!
Vinayak’s behaviour changed after he turned two. He started acting “abnormally”. He wouldn’t answer when called. His family took him to an ENT because they thought he had hearing problems. The ENT expert assured Vinayak’s family that his hearing aids were working properly and recommended autism testing. Vinayak tested positive for autism. His family was told he may be non-verbal and unable to learn. There were a lot of ifs and buts. Vinayak’s family feared the worst because they didn’t know what lay ahead.
He tended to live in his own world, far from reality. Vinayak immediately started speech and occupational therapy which helped him learn the concepts of colours and shapes through visual cues. Though he started school afterward, he struggled to keep up with the extensive and demanding school curriculum. “Vinayak needed to be engaged with the outside world, too. So we didn’t want to send him to a special school.” Vinayak was fortunate to find an inclusive school with regular students and a separate area for children with autism, where the autistic children were required to spend time with the regular students once or twice a week. “He is very intelligent. He can do a 100-piece puzzle in two to three minutes. He enjoys cooking and baking too! He makes most amazing tea.” says Suvi, Vinayak’s sister.
“When Vinayak turned 13 years old, he spoke my name for the first time, and I swear, it was the best day of my life, and I still remember it as clear as day” A few years later, Vinayak’s father passed away when he was 15 years old. “We were unsure of how to handle it and how to inform Vinayak that his father was no longer alive.” Suvi asked Vinayak’s therapist how to tell him about their father’s death because he struggled with reality. He lacked social awareness. His therapist asked Suvi to draw the situation because Vinayak responded well to visual cues. Suvi did exactly that.
She illustrated how their father went to work, wound up in the hospital, and ultimately passed away. She showed how their father will live on in their hearts forever, something Vinayak remembers. Suvi had to explain the rituals that followed the death of their father because he was expected to perform most of them. “Vinayak’s calmness during rites surprised me. The boy who couldn’t sit still for an hour stayed calm and did the rituals for around ten hours. Our family had underestimated him. However, he hadn’t cried since hearing about his father’s death. His family was worried. They questioned whether he’d accepted death or not. But, when all the close relatives left on the 13th day, he sobbed heavily.
This experience had a significant impact on Vinayak’s personality. He served as a pillar of optimism for our entire family. “Observing his courage to improve himself and go on, inspired us to do the same. We thought if he could, we could too!”
Vinayak gave his 10th board exams a couple of years back too. “This in itself was a success because we never imagined it would happen because earlier experts had warned us that Vinayak might not be able to pursue an education. And now, in February, he will take his board exams for the 12th grade!”
“Vinayak enjoys cooking and wants to be a chef. However, he eats more and makes less” says Suvi. He loves Kishore Kumar’s music and may pursue modelling in the future. He also works at an NGO, where he makes soaps and does block printing. He also creates videos where he debunks autism myths to raise awareness. He enjoys seeing the likes, comments, and views! He once had a test. I told him that it would be from 3:30-5:30 and that I would be waiting outside for him. However, because the exam didn’t start until four, students received extra time. Vinayak, however, arrived outside the classroom promptly at 5:30 precisely because I instructed him to! I had to ask his teacher to let him in once more so he could finish this paper.”
Vinayak has become a teenager now. He doesn’t like being with guests and stays in his room all the time!
Vinayak’s family has never let ‘Log Kya Kahenge’ come in the middle of him living his life. “He wanders around and occasionally makes a mess, but it’s fine. He needs to develop real-world skills, and we’ve got his back.”
Mental health concerns are real. It’s about time that we create an inclusive society where everyone has space to live!