The country bleeds blue every time the men in blue go out to play cricket. But on April 2, the whole world bleeds blue to support ‘World Autism Awareness Day’. And, Coimbatore too went the blue way.
It is common to see thousands of buildings in many countries, including the Rockefeller Center and Empire State Building in New York, the Panama Canal in Egypt, Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, and the Sydney Opera House in Australia get lit up in blue.
This has been the tradition since Autism Speaks, an international autism advocacy organisation, began the ‘Light it up Blue’ campaign after the United Nations adopted April 2 as the World Autism Awareness Day in 2007. The goal is to increase knowledge about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the importance of early diagnosis and intervention.
Though India too goes blue, it is on very small scale and is restricted to the metros. But Coimbatore went blue today, spearheaded by Third Eye – A Learning Centre for Autism. The Clock Tower near the Town Hall and the Coimbatore Junction were lit up in blue.
Serial lights were used to give a blue hue to both the buildings. The Centre had placed placards, soft boards and other publicity material on autism at various vantage points in the city. It had also urged offices, showrooms and residents of Coimbatore to light up their spaces, or wear blue. The day ended with cultural and sports events for children with Autism and their parents at Brookefields Mall.
Though this is a big effort for a four-year old centre, Saranya Rengaraj, Correspondent of the Centre, believes that autism awareness must be a constant endeavour to achieve early diagnosis and intervention. “Autism awareness is in its nascent stages and it will take another five to six years for India to reach the level of the U.S. where people are on the waitlist for availing intervention services,” says Saranya.
Her early days in India were spent watching her mother N. Vanitha, who founded Sharanalayam Trust to provide shelter to abandoned / orphaned children, elders, people living with HIV / AIDS, and the mentally ill. A close look at the reason for abandonment of children and elders at the centre that is located at Kinathukadavu on the Coimbatore-Pollachi Road revealed to them that they were neglected cases of Autism.
Marriage took Saranya to the U.K. and U.S. She used this time to become a Board Certified Assistant Behaviour Analyst (BCaBA). In 2013 she launched Third Eye on the Sharanalayam premises in Kinathukadavu to provide Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) technique based training and intervention to children with autism symptoms, ASD and related behavioural problems. The centre is the only one this side of Tamil Nadu other than a couple in Chennai.
Today, the Centre has 22 children and the awareness work over three years has paid off in that in the last year alone Saranya has admitted 15 children below the age of five to show that people are appreciating the importance of early intervention. Her earlier students were above 10 years. 2016 saw three children from the Centre being integrated with mainstream students, while this year will see another three.
There are Indian children from Australia, the U.S., Canada and Dubai at the centre. When software engineer S. Lakshmanan of Coimbatore was alerted by his paediatrician that his one year three-month-old son was not quick to respond, he thought it would become alright in course of time. After two years in the US when he realised that his three and half-year-old son in Coimbatore had not improved remarkably, he returned and went searching for recourse. He admitted his son in several so-called learning centres that did not yield any result. It was a playschool teacher who identified autism symptoms in the boy and connected Lakshmanan to Saranya.
Six months down the path, Lakshmanan is a happy man for the visible difference he is able to see in his son. He is witness to the fact that early and right intervention is the only way to mainstream the child.
Check out the GoBlue4autism page on Facebook for Coimbatore going blue.