How staying together as a family has done wonders for the Patils
Archana Patil has two children with disabilities. Her elder daughter Rashmi has a hearing impairment and son Jatin has autism. It's a challenging situation for any parent and Archana did not have it easy given the lack of awareness and sensitivity within her own home. How she coped has lessons for many of us.
Parenting is not easy and when you are parenting a child with a disability, the challenges are even more, given the larger lack of awareness and understanding.
For Mumbai-based Archana Patil, the challenges were even more as both her children had a disability. Her daughter, Rashmi Suresh Patil, now 22 years old, is a hearing impaired person while her son Jatin Suresh Patil, 20, was diagnosed with autism when he was over a year old. How Archana ensured they were raised as equal, empowered and enabled individuals has many lessons for us.
Rashmi is a dancer and entrepreneur who designs customised jewellery while Jatin is pursuing a dual degree at a college in Mumbai.
Archana says the early days were hard. Rashmi started using hearing aids when she was a year old. When Jatin was born, Archana was worried about what doctors might say. She recalls banging on the hospital bed a day after Jatin's birth, anxious to know if her son was alright.
When Rashmi was diagnosed with a hearing impairment, I had no awareness about disability. I used to check on Jatin to see if he could hear but I realised he had speech problems. Jatin was diagnosed with autism when he was almost two years old. By then, I was prepared to accept it. -Archana Patil
At the time, Archana and her family lived in Panvel, outside Mumbai, and would travel to the city everyday with Rashmi to attend a special school. She quit her job as a pathologist to stay with her children fulltime. She also did a course in parental guidance to help children with disabilities. Pursuing this course, says Archana, helped her understand how to reach out to her kids.
In the initial days, Archana was battling on many fronts. It did not help that her husband was initially not supportive. She also had to cope with superstitions from relatives.
"My husband was scared and was also worried about society and relatives. Gradually things started changing and today he is my strongest pillar of support.. The couple are not in touch with their relatives. "They have a problem seeing my disabled children, says Archana.
Like all youth, Rashmi and Jatin have their hands full planning their futures. Rashmi, a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, is gearing up for a performance in Shimla while Jatin wants to pursue a doctorate in mathematics. The Patils believe they have come this far because they have worked together as a family.
"If parents do not stand by their kids, then who else will? Accept your child's disability and stand by them. Do not expect anything back. I take them for disability-related events so that they can meet more people. I am also looking for a partner for Rashmi so that she can settle down in life. I want to portray her skills on an international platform, says Archana.
Husband Suresh feels super proud of his kids. He says the journey has taught him many things as well. "Today, people identify us as parents of Rashmi and Jatin. That gives us immense pride. It is truly a prestige to be known by your children, he says.