Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the learning, communication, and socialization behaviors of children. Medicircle is conducting World Autism Day Awareness series featuring eminent psychiatrists, pediatric neurologists, psychotherapists, and social entrepreneurs to spread awareness about autism.
Kamini Lakhani is the Founder and Director of SAI Connections, which is an autism treatment and therapy centre in Mumbai. Kamini has been providing services in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorder for the past 20 years. She is passionate about the cause of Autism. Respect and dignity for people on the spectrum are the cornerstones of her practice. Being the mother of a child (now young adult) on the spectrum, she understands the challenges encountered by parents of similarly abled children. Her aim is to empower families and create meaningful changes for those affected by ASD and other neuro developmental difficulties.
SAI Connections works towards empowering individuals with an autism spectrum disorder to live more purposeful and fulfilling lives. It also empowers parents and siblings of affected individuals to enjoy more wholesome family lives. Since 2004 it has helped parents understand what autism is, and has provided high-quality international education to children and individuals on the autism spectrum. It also provides training and certification of professionals who want to help individuals and families affected by conditions where the guided participation between a parent and child is affected, like autism (including Asperger’s), ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, and other developmental difficulties.
By the age of 2 years of the child, parents start observing the gaps in behavior
Kamini mentions, “Parents normally start noticing signs at around one and a half to two years of age of the child. They start noticing that the child is not responding to his or her name or is busy playing with the toys, and not engaging with people around or not integrating others in this play with toys. They may even play inappropriately with toys. I've seen many kids just flip a car around and spin the wheels. So, seeing all these, parents feel that they have to put in a lot of effort to engage with them. So, they end up kind of tickling them or trying to make them come close to them and to get some sort of reaction from them.”
Autism is not an intellectual impairment
Kamini emphasizes, “I don't believe autism is an intellectual impairment, though there may be a co-occurring condition of intellectual impairment with some children. But basically, it's related to the neurology of the brain. My teacher, Dr. Steve Gutstein, from the US talks about how the different brain centers of the people on the spectrum might not be connected effectively. So, if you look at it, it's got neurology at its base. And we look at it as a bio-psychosocial condition. The non-integration of neural networks leads to this kind of socialization and the psychological factors that we see,” says Kamini.
Children need that one person to believe in them unconditionally
Kamini says, “I believe that every child is capable of learning, and can achieve so much in his or her life. They just need that one person to back them, that one person who believes in them unconditionally. Parents can show that support. I believe in parent training because I feel that parents are the best guides for their children. So, if parents get on to a training program, and get themselves trained, if they learn how to engage with their children, their children can make maximum benefit and that would be wonderful. If we see speech impairments or sensory integration issues, we need to take care of those needs as well. But I believe parents’ training is the one thing that I would recommend for every child.”
SAI Connection’s initiatives in the sphere of autism
Kamini narrates, “I have a very personal reason for doing this. My son is on the autism spectrum. When he was diagnosed at age three, I was living in South Korea, and there was no help at all, except for, the one speech-language pathologists coming in once a week to help me or a special educator coming in once a week to help me. So, I had to empower myself to support my child. So, I started traveling extensively to the US to get trained to help him. And that's when things shifted for me and I realized that there's so much that can be done. There is the unlimited potential that our children have. When I came back to India, that was the beginning of support for autistic individuals. That's when we set up the organization way back in 2004 and provided the children the best kind of help. I soon became an RDI consultant from a behavioral specialist. That's where I got in with really supporting parents working with them one on one creating customized programs for them. So, we have gone on to train hundreds of families, hundreds of teachers. We are a group of four consultants who work out of SAI Connections and we aim to empower every family that we come across. Every individual has full potential and that's what we want to work on.”
People on the spectrum teach us how to live life
Kamini mentions, “I have learned much more from my son and others on the spectrum than I have given. Because I believe that they are very wonderful human beings who have this unconditional love in their hearts and they teach us how to live life. So, they are my inspiration. They are my heroes. I know parents struggle with the day-to-day nitty-gritty, and what they are going through daily, but if they can get a grip on that and if they start believing that, no, I can open up the way for my child, then that is the truth. That is the reality that they will see,” says Kamini.
(Edited by Amrita Priya)