Shalu Sharma Rathod is an inspiration. I've been following her journey as a mother of twin girls on Instagram. With simple yet expressive words and joy-evoking photos, Shalu writes about her life as a parent of a child who has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. She writes about life as a Working Mom. She writes about travelling with her kids and not letting just one thing spoil your life and letting go and so much more. And then in April, she stepped up and did even more. Shalu has already been working on creating awareness about Autism and the ASD spectrum by posting at least one fact about it per day. But this month, the month dedicated to Autism Awareness, Shalu created a campaign to amplify the conversation about Autism. She asked her friends and network and anyone who wanted to create awareness to wear 'Blue' or pose with a puzzle piece, the official symbol of Autism and post a picture or a story on Instagram and the support started pouring in. But there is so much more to say on the subject and so, here Shalu is in her own words.
A Dreamer Dreams, A Dreamer Does
Shalu Sharma Rathod
This is a mantra I have decided to live by as one of the many other mantras that motivate me to be and do better every day.
My mother has always been a huge positive influence on me for shaping my values, my compassion and the grit I possess. I have never seen her giving up on her dreams and that is what she has always taught me as well. If you dare to dream, you should have the courage to make plans and take actions accordingly. A dream is no dream unless you do something to fulfil them.
Two years ago, when my daughter was diagnosed to be on the Autism spectrum, I went through a phase that was probably the most difficult phase of my life. I am not a believer, but when someone said, 'As a teacher, you have always talked about the role parents should play in the education of their children and how special needs children can possibly be mainstreamed if proper time and efforts are invested in them. Maybe this is god’s way of giving you a chance to show how.”
It made so much sense. Maybe this was my chance to be able to prove that life with a kid who has different needs and a different way of looking at the world is not the end of the world. Maybe it was the beginning of a new chapter altogether, a beautiful one for that matter. That’s when I decided to change things for good and created some targets – targets that were achievable and broken down into small steps.
1. Get a full time job – Back then, I was working from home, part-time. I was enjoying my work without doubt, but if I had made Buddy (My daughter who is on the spectrum), her therapies, her interventions and her needs my whole world, sooner or later I would have lost my sanity. I decided to eventually work towards making her self-dependent and start working full-time. One baby step at a time, moving from part-time work-from-home to part-time work--out-of-an office to later a full-time office job. It took us 20 months to reach there. This also helped Buddy slowly start taking charge of her surroundings, her needs and to move out of her cocoon.
2. Create Awareness – Well, this was probably the most difficult thing to do. On one hand I was of the view that the more people know about Autism (learning disabilities and special needs, in general) the more inclusive they might be. But on the other hand my husband’s apprehensions were keeping me from talking about it much. He was not completely wrong. When if she grows up to hate me for making her a subject of my dreams? What if she hates the fact that people know her as being on the spectrum before they know her as a person? So I decided to talk about the subject and not her. This was the only balance I could find in my head to be able to do the right thing without hurting anyone emotions.
3. Start Early – One thing that all the doctors, therapists and counselors told me when I was discussing Buddy’s case was that the sooner I start her therapies and interventions, the better it would be for her growth, as she would have ample time to catch up on the skills she was struggling with. This would help her reach the required milestones too. We started with Occupational Therapy, Music Therapy and Group Interaction Therapy for her along with a lot of focused interventions at home and play-school. This helped her to get ready for regular school without much struggle.
4. Delay what needs to be delayed – We took a conscious call to delay her and her twin sister’s schooling by one year so that she was completely ready for formal, structured learning and would be able to cope with the major change in her schedules, learning and surroundings. Where most kids in India start their nursery schooling at the age of 2.5 – 3.5, my daughters started their nursery at the age of 4.5. As long as she is able to learn and adjust at her own pace, I do not mind a little delay – after all it’s for her good.
5. Create a support system for other parents – This is probably the most difficult target to achieve and I am still struggling with this. The major reason being, I am not an expert on the subject matter and Autism being a spectrum disorder, each kid on the spectrum experiences it differently and in different intensity. But from my experiences I learnt that having someone to speak to – someone who has been in the situation and understands what you are going through is extremely important. There are not many such groups, either online or offline, present in India. Thus, I started a Facebook group called - Special Needs Parents India Support Group to connect parents of special needs with experts, other parents & create a safe & secure eco-system for people to be able to share openly without any fear of being judged.
Has this dreamer been successful?
Well, not yet! But I will make sure to keep putting in efforts to educate people and make them more and more aware about Autism, learning disabilities and how we as outsiders can help.
This year, on Autism Awareness Day, the campaign - #DreamerMumCampaigns was a step towards that. This dreamer will keep on dreaming and keep on doing as much as she can to fulfil her dreams till she possibly can.
Thank you, Shalu for sharing your story. Your grit and your journey will certainly help other parents who are on similar paths.
For more from inspiring mothers like Shalu, follow the Times of Amma on Instagram and Facebook.