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What Is Autism

Autism is a life-long & a highly variable disorder. Multiple developmental issues hinder learning for an autistic mind. An hyper or hypo sensory process is constantly confused about gestural and or facial cues. A lack of information processing creates challenges in understanding verbal and even written directions which is caused because of an alteration in how the brain's synapses are connected. Socio-emotional behavior is filled with an insistence on sameness of activities and surroundings, which affect the daily functioning of the individual. In India, first we hide, and then we push autism into schools to make them more like their regular peers. In this process, we ignore their strengths and highlight their weaknesses, and then brand them as failures. Many spend years in education without ever connecting learning to survival. But does that mean this mind can't learn? No! This mind is a neuro-diverse mind, it is not only capable of learning but capable of innovation too. It has different needs and certainly this means that it is time for us, the neuro-typicals to rethink intervention. Teaching Autism requires a well-planned, structured & customized approach to obtain results and at SK, that is exactly what we do! At SK, we  bridge the gaps in Academic/Cognitive, Communication, Life and Social skills development for children with Autism and ensure that the autistic minds are truly educated to develop their potential, do a  job and excel at it, live independently & truly be inclusive.

The Solution

At SK, the child is the center of all our programs. Our philosophy is that all children are unique and need a stimulating educational environment where they can grow physically, mentally, emotionally & socially to meet their full potential. Every child gets a customized program devised bearing in mind the strengths and weaknesses of the child.  Parents are an active part of the program as they help in promoting consistent & sustainable learning models. While we are inspired by Aristotle, Dewey, Freire, Vygotsky, Locke, Rousseau, Gardner and of course Krishnamurti, the truth is that a diverse mind cannot be harnessed with any one single formula.  Hence, our teaching methodologies are really a mix of all theories which are matched to the child.  Peer learning is key to enhancing cognitive development. Children are placed in a group bearing in mind the support they can offer each other in social, emotional, cognitive and life skills along with how they can benefit each other inter-personal skills. Our methodology has five key elements which we believe are conducive to learning. One, teaching is a process of learning from your students, colleagues, parents and the community while maintaining a powerful faith in the future, two, students are immersed in hands-on activities, co-operative learning, critical thinking and problem solving skills, three, students are taught to make choices, learn new strategies, new ideas and new philosophies while nurturing different learning styles to direct their learning, four, students always engage with content that is relevant to their lives and are given the opportunity to practice learnt skills and concepts in a safe environment and five, technology is incorporated so students can collaborate with others while learning, solve complex problems, develop different forms of communication and leadership skills along with enhancing motivation & productivity.

The Process

Undesirable behaviors are common among children on the spectrum be it aggression, talking to oneself or inappropriate social interactions. At SK, we believe that a customized cognitive program, structured behavior sessions, consistent behavior modification techniques, specialized behavior management & a strong parent - teacher collaboration are key to tackling behaviors which can be sustained throughout life. Our first task is to close the gaps in comprehension as many children with Autism with an under-developed cognition show behaviors. A low comprehension means disconnecting the  self from the environment. Due to a reduced sense of understanding, anxieties increase about what is expected and why such an expectation is even in place. Another reason is a lack of communication, so we focus on building communication along with cognitive reasoning. Communication  gaps are created by a system that focuses on labeling with language and never moves  to establishing context or build inference & analysis. Many autistic children do not even attach meaning to language and hence, end up using behaviors to establish communication.  Anxieties are another strong reason why many children have behaviors and for this we teach children to engage with calming techniques like Pranayama, energy healers,  meditation techniques etc.  Based on each individual, a customized behavior modification plan is designed which uses a mix of conditioning techniques, consistent work in all environments, creation of multiple coping mechanisms, counseling for both parent and child and the use of psycho-therapeutic approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Meditation or Neuro-Linguistic Programming etc along with diet advice, support with Ayurveda or homeopathy and spiritual practices too. We have many collaborators who work with the community to help with behaviors for the children and the  most results have been seen when a parent is receptive and  engaged actively  to help resolve  situations.

The Challenge

In India, one of the major challenges for an autistic mind is to connect the dots between learning, application of knowledge and holistic living. While children are literate, the core comprehension of concepts is completely lost hence, we see a lack of communication, high anxiety, many aggressive behaviors and high levels of dependency. Our singular focus is to ascertain comprehension because 'true knowledge' is the ability to 'attach meaning' to every process. We are the first school in this country dedicated to autism and we do not mix disabilities. Also, we are the first school to devise an Autism specific academic curriculum which addresses all the learning needs of a child on the spectrum. The basis of this curriculum is a mix of the CBSE and NIOS curriculum as the intention was not to reinvent the wheel but to redesign the wheel to suit the needs of this mind. We focus on registering students who have challenging behaviors (aggressive or submissive in nature) due to extremely low cognition, regression and a lack of communication coupled with extremely high anxiety. We train students from the age of 6 or 7 with a focus on building comprehension and critical thinking. We ensure a student-centric approach by using interactive classrooms which use technology. We design our own teaching and lesson plans which use tools of artificial intelligence & virtual reality to breakdown complex concepts and make it accessible to the autistic mind. We use comics to teach language, carpentry to teach math, sculpture to teach science. Every visual, auditory and sensory approach, every unconventional route that appeals to the children's understanding, every kind of technology that facilitates - all these go into building the learning experience at SK & getting them ready for further education in their field of choice.

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