“Why did you bite into a car bonnet? Are you crazy, why did you eat mud? And what about biting the bark of the tree? Did it taste good?”
“Why don’t you start eating mud and bark pieces for lunch and dinner everyday, it will save your mom from cooking too.”
“NOOOOOO….!!!” Came a loud scream after which I yelled louder and asked again.
“Then why did you do it?” – I asked very angrily while facing this 10-year-old slender frame of a lanky boy whose eyes were filled with anxiety and fright.
All I could see was confusion, desperation and a strange kind of a faraway look in his eyes that scared me a lot. He simply peered into a distance while fidgeting with his fingers and rocking himself back and forth on the chair. After another loud shrill scream from me he jumped up and started to peer into my eyes in the hope that I would not get more angry and also hopefully would stop talking to him soon enough.
He obviously did not have any answers for me and worse still he seemed extremely surprised when he was confronted with things that he himself accepted as silly and ridiculous actions. It felt like he could not believe he had done such things and like he was battling within himself about what had come upon him to resort to such means.
That was one day and after many months of counseling sessions, chats with the mother I realized that Norman was only trying to FIT IN and BELONG. He was a 11 year old who was trying to make friends & was desperately trying to get the boys from his apartment to accept and include him in the games. He looked forward to playing with them every evening post his return from school and he would wait for hours watching the boys play and ignore him. Sometimes his mother would intervene to help and with his mother’s and younger brother’s help he did get into the circle.
He was very happy and wanted to please everyone so they all loved him. He loved watching Chota Bheem cartoons and would obviously talk about it thinking it would interest these boys too but instead these boys figured that they had a vulnerable young one amongst them.
And what did they do –
They told him – “Look, here Sun-city apartments is also actually a chocolate world, just like the world of chocolate in Chota Bheem and everything here too is made of chocolate. Why don’t you try it? Go take a bite of the car and see – it’s made of chocolate. Also, try this (they were pointing to soil in the garden) – see the color, doesn’t it look just like the color of chocolate? We are sure it will taste like chocolate too, come on try it?
The young innocent boy believed them and that was his downfall, he believed them and that was to become his greatest blunder. He went around biting into cars, barks of trees and eating mud. Even though he knew that it did not taste like chocolate, he still continued eating because the boys kept cheering him and he did it to please them so they knew that he was a good friend.
The boys sneered and taunted this weird boy amongst themselves while, getting him to do the things they found extremely amusing. But the little boy did not notice it and he kept on going until an adult from the apartment saw him biting into a car and took a stick to hit him while yelling loudly at him and calling him names. The other so called normal boys conveniently dispersed and left this boy alone to deal with his doings, which were primarily theirs.
By now, you would have realized that this is a special child and yes he is on the spectrum. He is one of those children we look at oddly when they scream or yell because a pressure cooker is going off in the kitchen, this is one of those children who flaps their hands and looks with glee at the rotating fan, this is one of those children who cannot express what has happen and how they feel even if they have a serious injury and yes this is one of those children who many would happily exclude from their lives. This is a BOY WITH AUTISM.
So then what happen – As a teacher, I struggled to understand why he would do such silly things, As a mother, she went through immense humiliation, As normal children, they exploited him, they jeered and provoked him and took away his right to believe in goodness, As a society, we are nurturing monsters and mortifying the innocent and vulnerable ones.
Does it matter? Not sure, but it did matter to the mother and me; so we kept talking to our children. We believed in them and over time we bared the truth to our children – the ugly face of what we call a civilized, educated community.
However, this does not solve the problem as today Norman will not go near those boys, he so despises them that he does not even want to live in that apartment anymore. He cannot make any friends and think that most boys are like that, he has stopped believing and is not even motivated to go to regular school because he knows what sort of kids await there for him.
Initially he was so motivated to go to a regular school – now he wants to study because that will make him intelligent but he does not care for going to a regular school. he says he is happy with us at the special needs school.
Who is responsible for a child who has stopped believing?
Who is responsible for the intense pain that he goes through each time to sees those boys?
Who is responsible to fix his heart?
Who is responsible for the anxiety that he lives with each minute which makes it difficult for him to even care properly for himself or lookout for himself?
Who is responsible to give him a fair place in this world?
Many questions and no answers.
Who is responsible for the despair, their choice to live alone as opposed to in a community, for their confusion about the good and bad, their battles within, their lost selves, their broken souls, their impaired functioning and the lacking need to survive.
While we teach children on the spectrum to be good, behave well, respect all, love all and put serious consequences to punish their bad behaviors; modify their behaviors so that the community is not displaced – there exists another world of nurturers that believes in teaching their children about competition, glorifying their egos, exalting luxury over necessities, comforting their sins, cutting their losses, finding solace in numbers over compassion, justifying selfishness as survival and motivating them to belittle anyone who is not superior or at par.
This is the world we live in, this is what we have chosen to nurture – a future that will only breed contempt and deny humanity. Are we really serious?
Again what about the PAIN, the PINING PAIN that these little children who are the real radiance that you have willing chosen to extinguish? What about the PAIN? What about the choices that we as an informed, educated community are making?
Note: The actual identities and names of the children have been protected for most obvious reasons, and I write this piece not for effect but in the hope that such atrocities may be stopped by those who still can afford to manage some compassion and humaneness within themselves.