Sometimes life throws you a curve-ball, or two. Find out how Priya Kannan took these challenges in her stride and has made something beautiful out of a tough situation:
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey with your family.
I was born in Madurai, the temple city. I grew up with my sister and cousins who made my childhood memorable. I was always a humorous person, always smiling and happy. During my school days, I was passionate about teaching Math. I also had a passion for singing which I did not pursue further.
Due to my parent’s aspirations and my interest towards Math, I completed my Engineering. Before I could think about my career, my wedding bells rang!! Soon I became a mother and my son was my world.
During that period we moved to Bangalore. My husband changed his career and was struggling to establish himself. Little did I know that my world would collapse! My son was diagnosed on the Autism spectrum at the age of 2.2 yrs. The word “Autism” was mysterious to me. I had no time to waste and I decided to start an early intervention for my son in Bangalore. This challenge made me a creative, playful, hard working, focused and determined mother.
I also had the support of experienced professionals. We were going through a financial crisis and I still ensured that nothing impacted my son’s development. At this point of time, I was blessed with a girl baby.
After 2 years of struggling, my son was ready for a mainstream education. In all of North Bangalore, there was only one school that was open to admitting him. Although there were a few ups and downs, with the support of the teachers and the school management, he is about to complete his class 10 board exams.
In the case of my daughter, I noticed a regression in her social milestones at age of 9 months. It was shocking to see her slipping away. I was depressed. Initially, doctors did not want to label her and we started early intervention for my daughter. As a mother, accepting that my daughter was on the Autism spectrum was difficult to me. I had a lot of fear.
I began to work with my daughter in the same as I did with my son. Her progress was slow because my expectations were high. I later realised that I had to unlearn all my methods of teaching her. It took me 5 years to understand that both my children are unique and the methods of teaching them had to be based on their strengths. When I accepted my daughter for whom she was and dropped my expectations, she started moving forward.
I integrated her into a regular school. Later, she needed the support of a shadow teacher to follow instructions at school. She was passionate about music and dance. She loved performing before an audience.
Again, she went into a phase of regression with a lot of mood swings and anxiety. To calm her down, we started medication. She started gaining weight and that became a major concern for us. We still continued with the medication.
As she stepped into her teenage years, the challenges were different. She lost interest in music and her other skills. Currently her interests are limited. So, I need to keep her engaged at all times and this drains my energy.
Recently, I discovered her interest for baking and water activities. I got her into swimming classes and she enjoys it. I used cooking as a medium to connect with her. She started engaging herself by baking garlic bread, cake, etc.
I am still exploring various options of alternative learning. Hopefully, we find one which suits her needs best.
What was your greatest turning point that led you to start an Autism Awareness movement?
The biggest challenge as a mother was to get people to understand my children.
I started educating people about Autism. At first, I started creating awareness among family members, relatives, neighbours and then later with people in the community.
I started sharing the importance of early intervention and acceptance with parents of newly diagnosed children as it was very critical for the child’s development.
As President of the parent support group, we organized an awareness program at the therapy centre. We created opportunities to train the children at different outdoor spaces, thereby creating awareness amongst the people in that environment. We collaborated with Kilikili and organized inclusive play programs every Saturday at Coles Park.
We performed a skit on Autism awareness at a public function on the request of Kilikili.
We started a social skills group called “Buddies”. We trained our children and organized events and performances inviting people from community as guests.
In 2016, along with my friends Sudha and Krithika, we conceptualised the idea of celebrating World Autism Awareness Day. We along with the other parents of “Wiztara for Autism” organized Samarpan Utsav 2016 and 2017.
Our dream, “Wiztara for Autism”, was registered as a Trust in November 2017. Wiztara’s vision is to create “equal opportunity and an inclusive society for people with Autism”.
What is your biggest learning since you started?
Life is full of challenges and every challenge creates an opportunity. I always wanted to be a homemaker. Being a homemaker, I would have had limited opportunities, but being a mother of two children in the spectrum gave me a huge opportunity. It helped me expand myself in many areas like creativity, leadership qualities and being able to connect to the parents’ world and give them the necessary guidance.
As a mother, I learnt that accepting our children for who they are, dropping all expectations, bonding with them and providing unconditional love helps them progress and discover themselves. Whenever there was a setback, I took a break. I reorganized myself and bounced back with new ideas. Being aware of your child’s needs is very critical.
When the going gets tough, mothers of children on the spectrum, professionals and friends provide their support. This helps me face the situation with a different perspective.
People in community are always ready to provide a helping hand to all our initiatives.
#pressforprogress is all about celebrating women who have pushed their boundaries and made a difference to the society or for themselves. Is there someone inspirational that you would like to talk about?
There are many people who have inspired me in my life.
My biggest inspiration is my Mother. She was an ophthalmologist by profession and gave up her career to take care of us.
Mrs. Nalini Menon, of Spastics Society of Karnataka, is another huge inspiration. I learnt from her how to be compassionate and also be equally firm with my children. She taught me to always be a source of love and acceptance towards my children.
My cousin Narmadha inspired me to believe in my children’s potential and love them unconditionally.
Mothers of children with Autism have always inspired me with their determination and dedication towards their children’s progress.