Autism, I again emphasize is not a disease and hence, there is no cure to it. So, a child with autism will one day become an adult with autism. Adulthood requires direction and the mind to be productive and this is possible only by making an adult employable. Employability means that the individual has to first be eligible to be employed and must have a certain skillset. The first hurdle is that the schools are unable to prepare many to even finish their basic tenth exams and even if the students do manage it, that happens mostly through rote. Rote based education creates massive comprehension gaps and so many are then forced to do monotonous tasks which means nothing to them thus, reinforcing their rigid, obsessive patterns which only locks them further inside their bubble. The opportunities to access education that is meaningful, or which would lead to further high-end vocational skilling is almost non-existent in India. Furthermore, most curriculums designed for disability in this country do not take into consideration the high comprehension gaps and are not customized to their needs so many go through an education which eventually becomes meaningless. This can leave the adult very confused and unmotivated which then leads to the development of mental illnesses like bipolar, schizophrenia or even depression and some may even succumb to various forms of addictions. In most vocational centers, the skills taught are of the level of the individual with greatest difficulty so, many students end up not being trained to their full potential. The scenario is worse when disabilities are mixed for then no individual benefits from a generic program which is not progressive in nature and is designed more to keep them occupied and not trained/educated. So, does this mean we will never find an answer or that a person with autism cannot have a vocation or live a fulfilled life? No! It means that we do not have the expertise or the know-how to tackle such problems and that is where we come in. At SK, we are not just training but also creating professional artists and we will provide autism with an environment to thrive in. So, we formed a partnership with Blue Olephant, which is the first entity in this country that focuses on providing specially designed autism-friendly co-working artistic work studios with the necessary infrastructure and resources to sustain their practices as artists for their entire lives. At SK & BO, we are continuously working to find solutions to build a community which can support a holistic life for those with autism. We aim to provide many of the same environmental accommodations and supports they had as children along with a holistic community living experience which will help them build bonds, thrive in safe and productive spaces and also integrate with like-minded people who can contribute to their development and aid in the making of a fulfilling life.
In India, the third area of major concern for Autism is in the employability or entrepreneurship areas. The first essential criteria of a successful vocation is that it needs to be independently managed at least as much as possible. Most models especially for autism are assisted which increase dependency and are not viable for the individual or the employer. At SK & BO, we have already trained our artists in the art school with a defined process which is designed to create independence with supervision mainly provided for their behavioral, emotional and functional needs, hence, this makes for an independent practice. Also, we will build a team of qualified artists who will help sustain artistic practices through curation and a keen eye for quality & aesthetics management. The second criteria of a successful practice is that it must be tied to their survival. Autistic people never attach any value to their existing and elaborate lifestyles though it is synonymous to their survival thus, failing to see the necessity of being employed and productive to earn their very own survival. At SK & BO, the connection between the artists earning and survival will be worked on in comprehension sessions using innovative experiments thus, pushing their cognitive development to make this essential connect. The third criteria of a successful practice is based on the interests and obsessions of the individual. If the job is not aligned to the interests of the individual, then it loses its viability and the individual ends up giving it all up and feeling derailed during the process. At SK & BO, we will only work with specific areas of interests/obsessions of the artist thus, effectively engaging their strengths, providing a productive outlet for the obsessions, building advanced skilling thus, increasing cognitive development and making the vocational practice a super calming and enjoyable process for the individual. Finally, there is no assessment or proof of job satisfaction for most autistic people in any forum in India and this further highlights the level to which we are ignoring the needs of the individual and boxing them in, one or the other way. While, autistic people want to be accepted and loved which is the reason they might succumb to the requests of their parents, it must be noted that this is a violation of their rights and not allowing an individual to pursue his interests is not the mark of a responsible caretaker. The fourth criteria of a successful practice is to build an inclusive market and create better work opportunities for those with Autism in India. We intend to build a market that can help those with autism thrive in the areas of work that they find inspiring. BO will develop a design and marketing entity which will brand, market and curate the works of the artists so that we can build the outsider artist’s market, bring awareness for the works of such individuals, build new avenues of monetizing and employability by also exploring areas of merchandising, commissioning, showcasing or building interesting artistic/cause collaborations thereby ensuring the livelihood independence and sustainability of the artist’s practices with a holistic approach.
At the SK/BO artist community, the adult is the center of all our programs. Our aim is to build the first successful blueprint model of the final outsider artist community space which will work as the main knowledge/services hub to enable further outreach an support more of those with Autism through the establishment of smaller such units, so they can be cost-effective and more easily managed because the main hub established by us will be focusing on knowledge exchange, capacity building, research, curriculum and methodologies development. So, this model will consist of the academic school which will train autistic people effectively so they can either pursue the arts and if not, then the education will allow them the opportunity to further their education in any area that interests that individual. This model with consist of an art school and the co-working artist studios along with a disability run kitchen inside a resto-café, a disability theater space, a disability design and animation work studio, an art store front, a disability gallery space and gardening spaces along with artistic residencies that will allow for further skilling, sensory stimulations and keep the individual calm, positively engaged and interested. The artist work-studios which will have a team of qualified artists headed by a behavior expert to tackle the challenging behaviors which we so often encounter with non-verbal and or highly anxious adults with autism. We will also make provision to enable the practice of the trained autistic artists throughout their working lives who, due to the severity of their condition may not be able to work independently. We will Develop an artist resto-café that can engage and hire people with disabilities in all areas like kitchen, admin, service and back-end tasks like growing organic produce too thus, forming a strong employability option within the final community space. Development of a disability theatre and art gallery space will engage with the community to build a strong platform for the outsider artists through art exhibitions, artist in residency programs, innovative collaborations in international levels etc. This will enable high quality arts and cultural showcases so that we can make the outsider artist’s practice inclusive and worthy of a respect. Development of design and marketing entities which can brand, market and curate the works of the artists so that we can build a collector's market, bring awareness for the works of such individuals, build new avenues of monetizing and employability thereby ensuring the livelihood independence with a holistic approach. Development of a store front which will engage in the selling of merchandise and branding of the artists ensuring conscious, high-quality and quirky products so that we are always aligned to market needs and the disability animation, filming and design studios will allow for more high-functioning individuals to work and have a fulfilling career too. The intention if to provide something for anyone who is interested in the arts and allow for a holistic development and engagement which will ensure that development of the mind is progressive in nature and also that these autistic adults will have a platform on which they can stand with dignity and pride.
The adult years of an autistic person can be extremely challenging. An adult body starts to experience more sensory sensitivities along with the kicking in of maturing sexuality. These combination of problems make it very difficult for many spaces to provide solutions for these individuals. It is challenging to even understand how to bring such a group together under one roof to enable vocational practices that is suited to their needs. Typically, it is expected of an adult to independently manage time and money, run their own home, find and hold a job, manage social interactions at work and in the community, find friends and romance, save for a rainy day, cook a meal, and be there for their kids. Not to mention handling the constant onslaught of sound, information, interaction, and visual stimulation that's part and parcel of being alive today. Adults with autism struggle to survive while trying to cope with severe anxiety, sensory dysfunction and social/communication deficits. Many adults on the spectrum are non-verbal and are unable to manage typical living situations. Most people with autism live a very isolated life even if they have extended families or siblings because life is challenging for everyone and being a caretaker only adds more pressure especially if the autistic person is left directionless. It is not uncommon to see many adults in India being institutionalized or being medicated heavily or being under lock down with a caretaker which makes it very hard for even the care-takers to experience a normal life. No amount of support or care is able to help those with autism deal with the stress of this alienation and the chaotic times they are stuck in. Many autistic adults who lose the ones who are near and dear to them are completely devastated and do not know how to survive further which leads to conditions like depression, bi-polar etc. This leaves behind a serious concern for the parent community that continues to linger on, despite the many efforts already made in India with regards to uplifting the disabled communities. We strongly believe that this is when they need most support and unfortunately, this is the time of life when we are pulling the chair out from under people with autism. So, at Sk, we aim to create an autism-centric environment. We believe that if you have met one child with autism, then all you know is about only one child with autism. So, we do not box or limit solutions. We customize our solutions and mostly they are a mix of approaches. Again, dealing with the challenges of being an autistic adult requires different kind of care. Our behavior interventions are evidence-based, individualized and intense in nature. We draw form various philosophies and techniques like Behavioral activation wherein the individual is encouraged to engage in activities like art, music, theatre, carpentry, coding, robotics etc. and then assessed on which activity is calming and if any of it syncs with their obsessions thus accelerating productivity and discouraging unruly behaviours. We build buddies between those with autism after matching their IQs, EQs and interets and engage them in socialization to create lasting bonds where it matters. As only a person with autism can undersatdn another with autism and accept them without any biases. ABA, CBT, ERP and NLP allow for cognitive restructuring to address co-occuring emotional challenges. We also work with mindfulness training, ayurveda, homeopathy and diet based plans to tackle behaviors. But one of the most critical aspects of this program is the support & consistency of the parent which is mandatory and crucial for the success of this program.
AUTISM SPECIFIC CO-WORKING SPACES
We intend to build Autism-friendly work studios to enable the practice of those who would need additional and life-long support to continue their artistic practices. These studios would provide the artist with a support team to ensure sustainability of practice along with quality production of artworks.
JOB COACHES & RESOURCES FOR SUSUATINABLE ARTISTIC PRACTICES
These studios will host job coaches and mentors who will help those with extreme difficulties also sustain their artistic practices. The studios will be designed with an aim to provide resources on and off site to ensure that the artists are able to make the most of their artistic careers. Also, counselors will be engaged to ensure utmost care be provided to all individuals.
PROVIDING CURATION SERVICES FOR AUTISTIC ARTISTS
These studios will have a team of curators who will be engaged to support the artistic practices of Outsider Artists thrive further. They will design themes based on the strengths and obsessions of the artists & will provide the necessary media & technique strategies if the adult faces any regressions.
COLLABORATIVE COMMUNITY PROJECTS
Artist in Residency programs and collaborations with artist collectives, folk artists or other marginalized communities will be engaged with to ensure continuous development of skills. Mainly, bringing the community in and working together with various collectives to strengthen causes and build an mutually benefiting eco-system is the primary aim of these projects.
STIMULATING EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR AUTISM
These studios will also have a marketing and branding team which will work alongside to build collaborations and also create employment opportunities for the artists. The intention of this team will be to generate monies through merchandising and commercial art activities to help sustain these livelihood options.
HOLISTIC AUTISM ARTIST COMMUNITY FOR LIFE-LONG
A progressive artist community with a academic and art school along with assisted artist work-studios, a design and marketing agency called Blue Olephant, a resto-café supported by an organic farm, the first art/theatre gallery which will be dedicated to artists with disability and much more is the final vision we hope to build & leave behind as a legacy to benefit the Outsider Artists in the long run.