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#WonderWoman - What is Inclusion but knowing, accepting & valuing oneself, says Akila Vaidyanathan

Through the month of March, we will bring you the many different and unique voices of women in the disability space. Today, Akila Vaidyanatha, Founder, Amaze Charitable Trust, an organization that is helping many families to navigate the bewildering and challenging autism maze, shares her thoughts on what inclusion, in its deepest, truest sense means.

Some time ago I was talking to a Class 11 student who had come to me for an assessment. He aspires to become a civil servant and showed a keen interest in current affairs. He was self-assured, confident and had every chance of realising that dream. He was also on the Autism spectrum.

His parents had recently taken him for an evaluation and were heartbroken when told that based on his IQ assessment, he would not succeed or survive in the real world.

The mother had become depressed and anxious and passed on her hopelessness to the son. He started avoiding her, his grades were falling and I met them in this state.

True, the world out there is tough to survive in with all the skills one has. So if one has 'Autism', which means your social skills are not up to the mark, you are at a clear disadvantage. But is that true?

Is the world not moving towards less interpersonal communication and more transactional relationships? So are these children actually not 'already there' - no frills, or preambles, or chivalry. Just the facts and needs and great attitude?

Coming back to that professional. If she had concerns about the student's survival skills, she could have helped the parents with strategies to improve in those areas rather than make a grim prognosis? Everything was based on an IQ test, which children with ASD find difficult to perform on.

As professionals we need to be aware of these differences and give clients and caregivers a clear picture. Do we really have to be so 'clinical'? Don't we also have a responsibility to point to possibilities?

Stories like these are heart-breaking. Here is a child with abilities and aspirations, and of course autism also thrown in. He has survived the mainstream school system in spite of its shortcomings thanks to his parents, teachers and friends. And in just three hours, a so-called expert is able to bring all that to nothing.

The reality of inclusion

The student and family lose hope and stop believing in inclusion. They feel small within and withdraw. They isolate themselves and try to survive in their own island. And this suits everyone. Because who wants to include the strange creature from nowhere anyway?

It took a few sessions of counselling the parents for the mother to start looking at the child with positivity again. Now they are on the way to a better relationship and the boy's grades are picking up.

At the other end of the spectrum are families ready to pay any price, even an extra year's fee in a mainstream school, so they can get a school leaving certificate from a 'normal' school. They chase treatments, therapies and temple visits to see if the child can be 'cured'. They are chasing the mirage in the hope of a miracle.

The reality of inclusion lies somewhere in the space where families and PwD start acknowledging who they are and where they stand with pride and grace and operate from there.

When they approach mainstream society from this space of self-awareness, we see that people on the other side are ready to try inclusion. This is the space we want every child and family to operate from. Then maybe the mirage will disappear and a miracle may be in the making.

Other stories in the #WonderWoman series:

Acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal shows incredible will in the face of repeated odds

Challenges bring out the tough side of Divya Sharma, a visually impaired content writer

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