Bengaluru: Sachin is a big built and strong 17-year-old. Like other teenagers, he is geeky and great with gadgets. In fact, he is exceptionally good with computers. But unlike others his age, Sachin is also a high functioning autistic.
According to Professor Margot Prior of Amaze, a member-based not-for-profit organization for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Autism is a complex developmental disability. People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have impaired communication and social interaction skills, they often find the world to be a confusing place. They display repetitive, restricted patterns of behaviour, interests or activities.
“My son will never physically hurt anyone on purpose”, Bela Joshi, Sachin’s mother told NSOJ. But because of his imposing size, it is a challenge for teachers to interact with Sachin. Besides, most special schools in Bengaluru feel that he fits more into a vocational category and not learning category, she said. “Also schools ask for huge donations to let him continue in a particular module,” Bela Joshi added.
In fact, it is hard too for “regular” people or parents of “regular” children to understand what it is to have an autistic child like Sachin. But one young man, neither a parent, nor autistic himself, understands.
To this end, John, with help from family and friends, has set up Trinity Learning Centre (TLC) in Bengaluru, a self-funded school for children, young adults with ASD and learning disabilities. John’s vision is to make them independent and self-reliant members of society. TLC was declared open on Monday, August 10.
What inspired John to start his school? “The pastor of my church in Coimbatore has an autistic son, Thomas. Looking at the challenges my pastor and his wife face in caring for their son, moved me deeply,” John told NSOJ. It led the young man to do his post-graduation in clinical Psychology and to also work with autistic kids at different schools in Bengaluru. In fact, John is a veritable Patch Adams and Munna Bhai rolled into one, for he works as a clown to entertain children in hospitals. He also teaches children at his church. These work experiences have spurred him into starting TLC. “During my work as a trainer and consultant in special schools, I noticed that these schools often turn away what they call “challenging cases” like a child with severe issues and so on. At my school, we will never turn away any child with ASD. No child will be rejected. If he/she requires remedial help, the doors of our school are open to them,” he stressed.
TLC is situated in Baiyyappanahalli, near the Vivekananda Metro station. The area is secure as well as safe, and the atmosphere is serene. Started with little funds, TLC is presently really small but not short on effort and hard work. There are two modules for children, easy and difficult. Help will be provided in three ways, through computer and communication skills, audio-visual skills and art/craft. TLC is a parent-child intervention centre so every two-hour session will involve both parent and child. This is so that parents can continue to help their children once they are back home.
John’s dream in starting TLC has come to fruition because of his loved ones and his friends. Akhila Suresh, the art instructor at TLC and Arun Kumaran, who will teach computer and communication skills, are both John’s friends. Both are in their 20s and have given up well-paying jobs to work with John. “I cannot afford to pay them high salaries, but they are willing to work for a pittance”, he said proudly.
His biggest support and partner, however, is his mother, Lydia Christopher. For the past 25 years, Lydia has been running an NGO called Springfield in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, that educates the less privileged and the handicapped. Springfield sponsors these children’s’ fees, uniforms and books. Till date, around 250 children have benefited. Now some of them have grown up to become IT professionals, others work in the government sector. Lydia and John’s father Christopher, are with him, in this cause as well.
Apart from being the Director of TLC, John, meanwhile does multiple things, he does emceeing for events and corporate clients, is an amateur photographer, a passionate cook with an Instagram page devoted to his culinary creations, and he is also currently pursuing a Journalism course. His aim is to create more awareness on ASD, and the needs of children/people with ASD.
At the centre’s inauguration, John’s parents were beaming with pride. They are happy his long-cherished dream is now a reality. “I don’t know how his school will turn out or how he will cope with all his students. But we are happy that his life has a meaning and purpose. May god be with him,” smiled his mother.
The journey will be tough, admits John, but he is confident that he and his friends, Arun and Akhila, can make a difference. “Many autistic children do not get the help they need. Many parents too cannot afford to pay the high fees that special schools charge. TLC is meant for them all,” he added.
People like John, Arun and Akhila are an inspiration for the youth of today. While most of us chase money and comforts, these young people, decided to pursue their heart. To give back to society, without expecting anything in return. – KHUSBOO ANEJA