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#BeingMom - Pratibha Bhatnagar shows us why mothers are such champions

As our month-long #BeingMom winds up to a close, we bring you the story of Pratibha, mother to Akshay Bhatnagar, a national award winner, sportsman and dancer.

Like any young couple, Pratibha and Navneet Bhatnagar were enjoying the early stages of their child Akshay's growth, celebrating every milestone.

When they noticed what seemed to be slightly worrying behaviour patterns, they took Akshay to the best doctor in their city, Jaipur. The doctor said all was well and for a few years, Pratibha took comfort in that. Then some time later, when she realised Akshay was unresponsive to things around him, but could hear clearly, she went to a therapist, who diagnosed him with autism.

At the time of Akshay's birth in 1992, awareness was little and this was the first time Pratibha had heard the word autism. The therapist gave her a booklet on autism.

I read the booklet in tears. Akshay showed all the symptoms of autism mentioned in it and I was shocked and disheartened. I cannot forget that day. Not just me, but my husband was also shattered. But we did not allow that to break our spirits. We were thinking of what can be done for Akshay to provide him with a good quality life. - Pratibha Bhatnagar

Pratibha's immediate family was supportive. Her father-in-law, who is a doctor, knew of the right techniques to help Akshay but the larger family would mock and laugh at her son. Those days were hard especially when she saw Akshay recat with anger and irritation to those slights.

Akshay underwent therapy for three years accompanied by Pratibha. Those sessions helped Akshay of course and Pratibha even more. She realised how she could reach out and help her son.

"Parents must learn how to interact with a child with a developmental disorder. Only then can the child be empowered, says Pratibha. That knowledge helped enhance their communication and bonding. "Once I knew what Akshay wanted, things started to change gradually for the better. I was patient and stood by Akshay which helped in his growth, says Pratibha.

Life of achievement

Akshay completed his schooling to pursue a degree in sociology, political science and public administration, and was awarded the second highest academic excellence award for his remarkable performance. He was also the first person with autism in Rajasthan to complete his graduation.

In 2017, the Rajasthan government honoured him with the Incredible Achievers' Award and the next year he won a national award for being a Role Model for people with disabilities. Currently Akshay works with a top firm in Jaipur. In this journey, mother Pratibha has stood by his side, supporting his likes and interests.

It came at some personal sacrifice. Pratibha quit her job as a government officer to be an anchor for Akshay. Her elder daughter too was there to support him.

Now that Akshay has become independent, Pratibha has decided to pursue her passion. She has done a diploma in special education for intellectual disabilities and a Masters in psychological counselling. In this new role, she reaches out to many children with disabilities and their families as well.

In her new role, Pratibha has been a game changer as well. Until a few years back, people with autism were given a certification in Down syndrome by the government. Now, thanks to her persistent efforts, they are given exclusive certificates.

Pratibha believes that every parent with a child on the autism spectrum must have a detailed plan on how to empower their child. "Patience and consistency is the key. Earlier, there was no awareness about autism but things have changed now. So parents have more resources so they must use it to the fullest.

Husband Navneet says he admires his wife's attitude and tried his best to offer support.

"We met many doctors who said that autism is not curable, but manageable. Pratibha decided to quit her job to be with Akshay. As a father and husband, I have always tried to be around. After all, a child is precious to the parent regardless of whether they have a disability or not, says Navneet.


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