Families with kids on the spectrum face frequent harassment. Greater sensitisation needed, say experts
Recently, a family in Pune underwent a terrible experience after one of the members from their residential complex complained to the cops about their eight-year-old son with autism making loud noises at night. Families who have children or youngsters with autism often face similar issues calling for a larger need to sensitize residential associations and apartment complexes about disabilities.
Children and youngsters under the autism spectrum disorder tend to get hyper, excited or restless while sitting inside their homes. They make loud noises or sounds which is an inevitable trait of their neuro-developmental disability. But over the past few weeks, especially post lockdown, there is a number of rising cases where residential spaces and apartment complexes complain about people with autism, mostly youngsters, making noises which apparently disturbs the other resident. This is exactly the reason why there is an urgent need for sensitisation about disabilities.
Shocking incidents from Tamil Nadu and Pune
The Times of India reported earlier in August about how a Chennai family had to change 12 houses because their landlords did not want their son with autism around them. The heart-warming story of R Thangavel, a 70-year-old daily wage worker, was widely shared on social media. Thangavel and his wife Parvathy, who has to take care of their 35-year-old son with autism, spoke about how their neighbours constantly kept having issues due to their sons behavioral issues.
In a recent incident, a family that lives at Salunke Vihar Road in Pune, who has an eight-year-old son with autism also recalled their horrific experience which came to light this week. The child who was playing at around 10.30 pm inside his house made a few loud noises which angered one of their neighbors who immediately called the cops to complain about this. The child’s mother who is a doctor, has been on Covid duty for the past many months and she had to rush back home after cops arrived at their doorstep late in the night. The father, an advocate, was shocked too. The cops not only refused to say who raised a complaint, but also wanted to take action against the family. But after due interference from officials in the resident’s association, the cops apologized for their insensitive behavior.
Pune Mirror has quoted Kondhwa Police Station inspector Vinayak Gaikwad saying, “We cannot blindly take any action against a child for such reasons. It is important that we address each complaint. Therefore, the marshals were asked to visit the family”.
Reportedly, the parents have taken up the matter seriously, filed an RTI and has not succumbed to pressure. This is indeed a message to many parents to know their rights and be self-advocates and also seek support from disability groups and associations if needed.
The need for sensitization and inclusion
Gopi Ramakrishnan, Co-founder of SCAN, a parent support group from Chennai recalls a similar experience he underwent in USA after a neighbor complained about Gopi’s son. Talking about the Pune incident, Gopi says, “It is unfortunate that an incident like this was taken to the police. The cops must taken action responsibly. But the good part is that most of the other members of the residential complex were accommodative. It is just one person who raised the complaint, so we cannot blame the entire society. What I have to tell to parents of children with autism is that the whole world is not against us”.
Seema Lal, Co-founder of Kerala based parent support group TogetherWeCan says, “This is disappointing and frustrating for all of us. Message to the neighborhood would be to seek to understand first. That is the essence of community living. If they hear voices that are ‘disturbing’ or ‘intrusive’ as claimed, seek to understand what difficulty the family might be going through. Offer support or network with groups and come together to help them instead of isolating or blaming”.
Seema further adds, “Policing does not always mean punishing. Community needs to see police as community helpers and teach our children the same. They should be safeguarding the law”.
Lack of awareness about disabilities
Manish Samnani, President, Haryana Chapter, All India Occupational Therapists Association says that such incidents highlight the attitudinal barriers towards disabilities or children with disabilities. Sarmani has faced a similar incident when members of the neighborhood objected to presence of his center for children with disabilities.
“There is a historical bias towards people with disabilities in India. Disability is regarded as a curse or a sign of past wrongs. The community in general has two approaches- one which is intrusive where parents are asked about which baba or temple they have visited and the other where they avoid the child as if he or she has a contagious disease. This underlines the need for greater sensitization”, he says.
The inclusion we talk about, says Manish, is more in theory than in practice.
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