Autism is a lifelong neurological condition, a developmental disorder that typically occurs in the first three years of life. Autism manifests as differences in development in three main areas: communication (verbal and non-verbal), social interactions and imagination, which can be seen in repetitive and restricted play or leisure activities. Many individuals with autism have different ways of ‘sensing’ their world. For example, some may not like being touched gently but prefer a firm hold. Others may have difficulty in brushing their teeth or getting a haircut. Given these differences in communication, social interaction, imagination, in ‘sensing’ their world, many people with autism may have very unusual behaviors and atypical ways of relating to people, objects and events in the environment. As a result they are often mistakenly thought to be ‘disobedient’ or ‘badly behaved’.
Autism is not a rare or uncommon disorder. It is the third most common developmental disorder, more common than Down’s syndrome. Recent international studies show that about 1 in 68 people have autism and the overall autism is believed to be consistent around the globe. This means that there are over 18 million people with autism in India. At this point in time the causes of autism are unknown.
Role of Mata Bhagwanti Chadha Niketan
Mata Bhagwanti Chadha Niketan is one institution in India where rehabilitation of more than 1000 specially-abled children is undertaken. Spread in an area of 2 acre, this is a part of The Ponty Chadha Foundation under the philanthropic wing of the Wave Group. As its corporate social responsibility, the group trains the autistic children to develop social skills so that they can mingle with the society in a positive way. It is a charitable organization that is dedicated to take care of these children. It is the largest day-care special school.
In MBCN there is a special section of children with autism to address special needs of 94 such children out of 1000 children with different disabilities. The staff closely works for holistic and complete learning for them which aims at maximizing the potential in activity of daily living, communication, social understanding, play and leisure. The training programmes start with an initial assessment of the child. Based on the child’s strengths, behaviors, learning patterns, and the teaching and learning methods best suited to him/her, an Individualized Educational Plan is made keeping in mind the child’s current needs as well as the parents’ immediate concerns.
Use of technology
The school uses latest assistive technology to improve expression in children with autism. The school has developed an android application VAAKYA which can be used as a very effective and useful tool for alternative augmentative communication especially for individuals with autism. It can be an asset to them to express themselves.
VAAKYA is an extremely diverse and flexible AAC application which does not rely on internet connectivity. The custom information added to the application such as user accounts/actions are stored within the application itself. This utilizes the phone’s own memory, thereby marginally increasing the size of the application depending on user accounts/actions created.
Multiple User Accounts: Educators/rehabilitation professionals, can add multiple students/patients to the application with unique actions and speech relate-able to each individual. This reduces cost as most applications available can register only one user on each device and would require multiple devices for different individuals.
Language Flexibility: Speech associated with actions can be recorded and played back in any language.
Image/Action flexibility: Images for actions can be replaced with existing images on your device or through your device camera directly. Additional actions can be added to each user account.
Flexibility of use: Parents/guardians can use the application differently by adding situations instead of users and images associated with each situation for the individual.
The school believes that if people with autism are to have an opportunity to reach their maximum potential the community of parents, siblings, other relatives, and professionals will have to continue to work together as a team.