Monday, December 19, 2016


Confidence and glamour gave colours to the dazzling young stars who walked on the ramp sporting Manas’ exclusive ‘gamcha’ collection. Red, blue, green... their legs moved with the music, their eyes sparkled in the dark auditorium of Vidya Mandir. The stage of SMAYAN boasted of the 6 young models of Wonder House, a unit of the NGO, Transcendent Knowledge Society, founded by Dr. Amrita Roy Chowdhury. They were just beyond perfect; their presence and participation unlocked the door of hope for each and everyone working with autistic people.

‘I never say autism is a disorder,’ Amrita warns me as I watch their practice on Monday morning. ‘Autistic children are talented. Very few people care to understand them.’

‘We didn’t win the competition but we won hearts,’ Amrita’s happiness overpowered the challenges she, her kids and her team members face to help these autistic children become a part of the mainstream society.

SMAYAN is an event conducted by Sushila Birla at Kolkata with the aim to promote inclusion and equality of rights to education of every child. On the 13th of December, 2016, Amrita’s kids participated in the fashion show which was dominated by groups older than her. They were the only group of autistic children competing against a lot older people with Down syndrome and pro-learners.

The kids walked as professional models responding to the hard work they themselves and their caregivers have invested in this fashion show. When endowing socialization skill is one of the toughest challenges the caregivers face, Amrita prepares her students with love, care and diligence. The kids ( 5 boys and a girl) were accompanied by ‘shadow teachers’ and made themselves indistinguishable from any non-autistic person with their steps, their flamboyance and their rhythm.

‘It makes me feel proud when I say they made direct eye contact,’ Amrita beams, ‘ because making direct eye contact is one of the primary challenges faced by autistic children. For some of them, this was their first performance and they were amazing.'

Yes, the kids were amazing and the pictures speak for them.Their presence dominated the hearts of the audience challenging the very notion of isolating the autistic children.

Inspiring words from judges, their appraisals added energy to Amrita’s hopes. She started her NGO two years back in January 2015 with the vision and mission to ‘enhance their skills through different expressive therapies, soft skill training and independent living skills’. 

Participating in SMAYAN helped the whole team learn and experience. Each and every autistic child is unique and there’s no ‘the’ way to take care of them, to help them. 

My conversations with Amrita enlightened me of the variegated flowers of the human spectrum I was completely unaware of. For any person who has no prior knowledge of autism, this will seem something different and sometimes, this perception is also misguided by our stereotypical outlook. But one has to learn without any bias. It’s like breaking away from your orbit and letting yourself explore the world without equating any planet or star with respect to something else. It’s about exploring and understanding. It’s about growing with these children and understanding them, it’s about understanding the society with them, for them. 

‘We got 1 month to train ourselves and I am extremely grateful to everyone who helped me,’ says Amrita.’ I am really thankful to Minakshi Nag, our dance movement therapist and Manas our designer. Both of them volunteered to help me. It would not have been possible without them.’
The journey has just begun for each and every one of us. Amrita, who is the Director of her NGO has already started planning to build a ‘group home’ for her children to give them a supported living.

The story doesn’t end here. Rather words are left to age with these young children and our experiences as we see the world with all its marvels. The vibrancy, the response, the acceptance make me believe in a better future when the world is affronted by greed, hatred and lust. Very few people in India are sensitized. Very few parents in India come out in public with their autistic children. Very few people have dared to work for these autistic children. And some have. Amrita has already created the dialogue. Now, it’s time for us to continue the conversation together, weaving the stories of this wonderful spectrum.

Author Bio: Aparajita Dutta is a writer, translator, social activist and a  research scholar 
( M.Phil, Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University). She is the contributing author of Tell Me a Story, published by Penguin India. She has written for other books and  
magazines as well.  Her interests are gender rights, football, food and travel. Samples of her writing can be found in her blog :

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