By Punya Srivastava
Punya Srivastava explores the poignant and mysterious world of autism, and highlights areas of hope
I knew the words, but no word would come out of my mouth. I wanted to cry out that I knew but I was mute! If I could have talked, I could have soothed my mom – alas, I could not. Autism came between us!” wrote Krishna Narayanan in his book, Wasted Talent: Musings of an Autistic, which he wrote at the age of 23. Krishna was born and raised in Boston, though he presently lives in Chennai. When he was four, his mother, Jalaja, tirelessly strove to teach him to say ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ by repeatedly showing him the cards, but no words would come out of him. This taxing and agonising activity went on for months as she was unable to gauge if her child was simply mute or retarded. However, one day Jalaja came up with the idea of lifting both the cards and asking him to point out the ‘Daddy’ card. Little Krishna did. The mother couldn’t believe her eyes. She was jubilant. “To my parents, I was not dumb anymore. In reality, I was never dumb. I knew the alphabet, I knew many words, and I knew how to fashion sentences. The tragedy of autism is being unable to communicate in words,” he wrote.
Imagine a child of four being imprisoned within his own mind. How claustrophobic he must have felt entrapped within an impregnable world he is unable to describe. Almost as if he were talking underwater, and could only produce a stream of bubbles. Imagine living like that your whole life. Yes, autism does that and much more to people. It robs the person of the tools needed to express emotions, particularly of love and affection. It makes him anxious and fearful of the world around. It forces him to be dependent upon someone to help him live his life. It evokes frustration within him and triggers off crankiness. It makes him extra sensitive to sound, colour, light and food, causing him to suffer intensely in what, to the rest of us, would seem normal circumstances. It condemns him to an unbearably cold and lonely world, bereft of the human contact and warmth that is probably what keeps most of us from committing suicide. In short, if life is challenging for the rest of us, it is nothing short of an extreme endurance test for the autistic person, and also for the people around him.
What it is
Autism does not have a fixed set of symptoms. It is not just a single disorder but covers an entire spectrum of what ‘normal’ people perceive as mental ill-health, though it might be a debate in itself to gauge what ‘normalcy’ actually is. In Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), two people on the same level of the spectrum can show varying symptoms, and that includes even identical twins! The cause of autism is not known, but scientists suspect both genetics and environmental factors play roles.
The biggest challenge of ASD is hypersensitivity to sensory inputs and simultaneous muteness. This combination creates so much internal tension that it may trigger violent behaviour. All this slowly form a pattern to which the autistic person haplessly surrenders.
The four-year-old Krishna developed a chronic fear of being social, thanks to his inability to give words to his emotions, and because of an insensitive and pugnacious liftman. In his words, he was filled with apprehension and tension and to relieve himself, he would stretch out his hand and wriggle his fingers repeatedly. To the school liftman, this child came across as weird, and he lost no time in putting him down. “Every day, he made fun of me. I was young and innocent. The ridicule hurt because I could neither stop his behaviour nor offer a retort. I could not even tell my mom – I was mute! Alone, I bore the terror every day. Ridicule is a veritable hurt, but loneliness makes the suffering more poignant,” he wrote.
This is not an isolated incident, but happens with an autistic person every day of his or her life in one way or the other. This derision, in my opinion, is the biggest cruelty inflicted on a community that already bears a heavy load. This is not to say that people do not look out for autistics, but we do sometimes inevitably, either consciously or unconsciously, in masked and subtle tones, communicate our discomfort with them. And this is picked up quickly by most of them. Contrary to common perception, a majority of ASD children do not have an intellectual disability.
Twenty two-year-old Abhimanyu was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. For his father, Delhi-based Madhusudan Srinivas, Senior News Editor with NDTV, this news was a blow. He went through an entire gamut of emotions – anger, bafflement, and breakdown – before he could accept the diagnosis as well as his child. “Your ability to accept gets challenged at that moment. And you cannot put any time duration to that. It is an ongoing process. I am still learning,” he says. Abhimanyu has a keen ear for music, and though his verbal communication is stilted, like many autistic children, he is able to complete the lyrics of songs when he hears his parents sing. He also roller-skates and swims.
“Autism is integral to a person’s being – the way a person thinks, perceives, processes, engages and interacts with the world,” says Ray Hemachandra, a media professional living in Ashville, and father to a 14-year-old autistic child, Nicholas.
Many autistic children have difficulty in differentiating between good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate – and that usually puts them on a tight spot. Says Ray, “Nicholas struggles with the idea of differentiation. It sometimes makes it hard for him to find acceptance in a world in which most of us insist upon differentiation. It is hard for him to understand how people use language, hard for him to know how and where to be just physically – even as his own acceptance of everyone and everything is unqualified.”
“Abhimanyu has a very pious heart. He does not differentiate between people at home and people outside. He is equally affable to all. But there were times when I have gone ballistic worrying about his safety as he would saunter off on his own at times, though within the residential compound. However, people working within the compound have grown to look out for him as he is ever-smiling, and most of the times bring him back home,” shares Madhusudan.
Autism is not just a litany of inadequacies. It also has some unexpected strengths. “Autism is a state of being, a unique energy signature. At the lower frequencies the symptoms dominate, and at the higher frequencies of energies, the talents flower,” says Dr Rajalakshmi Kandaswamy, healer and consultant in applied energy medicine.
The most common gift that all children with autism are born with is the gift of telepathy. These children easily tune into the thoughts, feelings and emotions of not only their parents and caregivers, but also of other people whom they feel connected to, across distances and even in other dimensions. Now, if what they are telepathically connecting with is healthy and positive for them, this ability manifests in the form of excellence in healing abilities, art, singing, music and other creative abilities well beyond what may be usually expected for their age, and sometimes intellectual capabilities that scale the ‘genius’ level. There are innumerable autistic savants very gifted in music, in mathematics and other fields. Many of these gifts and talents are purely the result of intense and consistent focus on a particular subject of interest to them. It is the result of tuning in and tapping into the larger field of intelligence which their passionate nature channels in ways that manifest as gifts and talents.
An alternative perspective
Dr Rajalakshmi defines ASD as a spectrum of limiting symptoms that reflects the whole range of fragmented human emotions suppressed in every human being due to emotional policing in the name of “fitting into society and cultural conditioning.”
According to her, the root cause of ASD is energy disturbance. “Autistic beings are a new species on this planet. They are extremely energy sensitive and are born with their connection to the larger field of intelligence very much in place. They remember who they really are, and their connection to this Universal field of Intelligence, or God, to use a more common phrase. Autistic beings are born with the knowingness of their connection to the Infinite and their multi-dimensional and eternal nature,” she says. As per Dr Rajalakshmi, since they are highly sensitive energy beings with poor energy boundaries, more often than not they get affected by the energies of people around them, especially their parents and care-givers. This, in addition to the fact that they are highly telepathic makes them tune in to the thoughts and energies of people and reflect back whatever needs to be healed in the person whose energies they are tuning into.
People on the spectrum are also affected by the energies of the things in their environment including food, pesticides, toxins, often causing issues with digestion and increased susceptibility to illnesses due to poor immunity. Researchers are still not able to put a finger to the exact cause of autism. However, energy healers recognize that there is a soul contract between the child with autism and the parents who give birth to and raise the child. The sooner this contract is recognized and acknowledged, the sooner parents and the child can move on to the specifics of re-defining the contract in a positive, empowering way. This would serve both the child and the parents in a manner that can allow the unique gifts and talents in the autistic child to bloom, and for the child with autism to thrive with joy.
“My eight-year-old autistic son, diagnosed with several other co-morbid health conditions, used to have bouts of severe stomach pains that would leave him and me, both tearful and exhausted. He ate only five things as anything else gave him even more intense stomach pain. He was in pain most of the time and did not consistently respond to therapy,” says Gurgaon-based Sandhya Narula (name changed). One day at the end of her wits listening to her son screaming in pain, Sandhya sat down and prayed for a miracle. Next day, she received an email from a friend, Kavita Chhibber, who shared about her healing journey with pranic healing and the service she has been able to provide for children with autism. This was the miracle Sandhya was looking for. One night as she returned from her healing class, another pain episode kicked in but this time she had her tools ready. The episode that used to last an hour or longer was amazingly over in 15 minutes. “My son stopped crying, came close to me and sat down peacefully. Imagine my delight in knowing that I could do something to ease his pain!” she shares. For the next two months, she religiously did healing two to three times a week for a period of two months before his pain episodes went away.
According to Delhi-based naturopath and medicinal nutritionist, Dr Biswaroop Roy Chowdhury, vaccines cause autism. “Vaccine MMR was banned in many countries across the world in 2001 but it is still prevalent in India. It contains mercury, the most poisonous substance in the world, that affects the neurosystem of a child’s brain,” he says.
“There are two things that help improve an autistic person’s condition – the food he or she takes and other people’s behavior towards him or her. I tell parents of autistic children to keep their patience as it takes time for these conditions to improve,” he says. According to him, autistic children are more visual than auditory. Hence, they respond better to pictures and visuals than sounds. Color also plays a huge part in triggering an autistic child’s efficiency levels.
Dr Chowdhury recommends a diet of lots of raw vegetables, rainbow colour fruits, and nuts. “The colour green stimulates neuro cells, hence a glass of juice of any green vegetable per day is recommended. The diet should be casein free and gluten free. Hence, there should be absolutely no cow’s milk or milk products in the diet. Parents must not switch to protein powders and milk supplements. One glass of green vegetable juice is the best replacement as it has more calcium than milk. To keep the diet gluten-free, grains should be had minimally. Opt for food options that do not contain wheat, rye, oats, etc,” he says.
He cites the case of a 15-year old autistic boy called Aakash (name changed) who attends special education classes in school, and was brought to him two years back. In these two years, Aakash has improved considerably. “Firstly, I asked the parents to stop his medical treatments. I then put him on a vegetable- and fruit-rich diet, and asked the parents to ensure that they were organic and not riddled with pesticides. He was also taken off milk and dairy products,” says Dr Chowdhury. Aakash’s fine motor skills and coordination are much better. Though he still attends special education classes, he is able to grasp newer things quicker than before. The idea behind the use of GFCF (gluten free casein free) diet is to reduce symptoms and improve social and cognitive behaviours and speech. However, as autism is a spectrum disorder, the level of improvement may vary with individuals.
What stops parents from trying holistic therapies is the dismissive approach of the medical community who affirm that autism cannot be cured, that it is a life-long disability, or caused by incurable genetic defects. All of which are based on limited and conditioned mindset brought on by outdated understanding of autism and lack of awareness about solutions in autism that are working beyond the understanding of conventional medicine. “The latest scientific disciplines of epigenetics have demonstrated that genes are not destiny, and the latest advancements in neuroscience have shown that the brain can be completely re-wired,” supplies Dr Rajalakshmi.
A case that came to her was that of a nine-year-old boy who was diagnosed as a case of non-verbal Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at the age of two, with the complaint of never having spoken a single word in his life. Other complaints were hyperactivity, not making eye-contact, not studying on his own, or going to school, not communicating or socialising, clenching his teeth repeatedly, making repetitive noises and pinching things with his fingers. By the end of 15 healing sessions, the child first started singing and then speaking. All the other symptoms improved right from the first healing session conducted with each parent. Teeth clenching, making repetitive noises and pinching things with fingers disappeared completely. There was dramatic improvement in the remaining symptoms; he started making good eye contact, studying on his own using the laptop, and initiating friendship with other children of his age. The hyperactivity reduced by 80 per cent. The energy disturbances in each parent and the child were corrected and their energies re-aligned in the healing sessions. Even the parents healed from their diseases, with the mother recovering from a digestive complaint, and the father from low back pain and fatigue. “I would like to gently remind each parent with a child on the spectrum that each one of us is born with a powerful Inner Guidance System that is based on energy. Learn to tune in and trust that system. Take back and own your power in making decisions for your child as your guidance system already knows what is best for your child. Do not get into the victim mode and squander away your energies by buying into beliefs about autism that are not true and that are disempowering for yourself and your child. Because, there are solutions in autism which work,” says Dr Rajalakshmi.
Dr Rajalakshmi’s statement about neuroscience throwing fresh light on autism is borne out in the celebrated neuro-scientist, Dr VS Ramachandran’s book, The Tell-tale Brain. Often called the Marco Polo of neuroscience for his daring deductive leaps, here too, he has his theories, which revolve around brain cells called mirror neurons. According to Dr Ramachandran, these mirror neurons are behind the staggering difference between man and monkey. The speciality of the mirror neurons is that they fire when we are engaged in any activity. Fascinatingly, they also fire when we see anyone else engaged in the same activity. From this, he deduces that mirror neurons are the reason why we humans are empathetic, can mimic others (which is what enables us to absorb culture and language), play, and even use metaphorical language. Interestingly, these are the very things autistic children are poor at, leading him to wonder if autism perhaps is generated out of a deficiency in the mirror-neuron system. Furthermore, biofeedback may enable autistic children to have better control over their mirror-neuron activity. He also suggests that if mirror neurons are behind the lack of empathy among those with autism, perhaps a cocktail of drugs such as prolactin and oxytocin (which cause affiliation) and others could help bridge the divide.
Ultimately, autistic children and their parents must take some comfort in the thought that many have improved or even healed from their condition as they grew older, especially those diagnosed with a border-line disorder.
If Krishna can do it, perhaps others can too.
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