“He started singing even before he uttered his first word,” says Yamini, mother of 17-year-old Aditya Jonnalagadd.
Aditya lives in Secunderabad and was diagnosed with autism when he was around three years of age. However, the disorder has not stopped him from pursuing his passion - music.
Even as a small child, only two years of age, Aditya would sit with Yamini for music classes.
“I used to teach classical music to a few children in my apartment, and he used to sit with them and try to imitate the tune,” she says.
Though he could not pronounce the words, Aditya would sing with other students in her class.
However, when he did not speak even after turning three, Yamini was worried. Aditya's twin sister, Nitya, was actively speaking and interacting with people while her son's behaviour was distinctly different. When she took him to various doctors, she found out that he was autistic.
Soon after, Yamini started teaching him music and she believes that this has improved his grasping power.
At 17, Aditya still does not speak much. Yamini says that other than the time he's singing, he does not utter more than 4-5 words in a sentence.
“For the past three years, he has been learning Carnatic music. His music teacher, Ch.Kyvalya Kumar, is very enthusiastic and passionate about his sense of music. He says Aditya is doing really well and grasping things quickly,” she shares.
April 2, 2016 was a special day for the family. Aditya gave his first Carnatic recital on World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) at a cultural programme.
And this year, Aditya is set to perform once again for WAAD on Sunday at a cultural programme organised by Nayi Disha, an online platform that supports families of persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
“His singing has given me hope that my son can be independent,” Yamini says.
Till the age of 9, Aditya was dependent on Yamini to do all his work. His father works for an MNC and travels a lot.
With patience and music, Yamini has worked hard at making her son independent.
“Now I can go out for 6 hours, and he can manage to stay alone at home. I've taught him to cross the road alone when he goes out, change the bed-sheet of his bed etc. We are taking baby steps, and he also feels confident when he does things alone,” she says.
Aditya, who is looking forward to pursue his passion for singing, is also planning to appear for the 10th standard board exams in April this year.
Getting Aditya admitted in a school was extremely difficult, recalls Yamini. He had to change three schools - special schools said that he was ahead of the students who studied with them but regular schools wouldn't give him admission.
Yamini, however, isn't bitter about this.
“He will be giving his 10th exams under the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). I don’t blame the schools because they don’t have enough infrastructure or manpower to give him special attention in class. Also, there is a lack of knowledge about autism in our country,” she opines.
(Aditya with his twin sister, Nitya)
Aditya is ambitious and conscious that he must do well academically.
“Singing is helping him a lot, but now when he sees his sister studying and going out with friends, he keep saying he wants to study, too,” says Yamini.
Aditya has also started attended computer classes.
“I don’t want him to be at home doing nothing. He is not like other children but he has the willpower to do things. Surprisingly, he knows that he is lagging behind and keeps saying he has to catch up,” she explains.
Aditya and Nitya went to school together. Nitya was often troubled when students used to ask her why her brother didn't speak. She was at a loss to explain as she was too young. It was Aditya who lent his sister support in those days.
“Aditya would sit with her quietly, and hold her hand whenever she used to get upset by those questions. Having grown up with Aditya, my daughter now understands him better than I do. She helps him academically,” Yamini smiles.
Despite finding it difficult to stay in the same place for too long, Aditya puts in his best efforts when it comes to music practice and performing.
“He is very hyper active all the time, just cannot sit in one place for long. But during his Carnatic recital last year, he sang for nearly an hour. We were surprised. He gave one more such performance recently in March. When it comes to music, he is patient,” Yamini says.
The concert that Aditya gave on March 25 was at the Samaja Sampradaya Sangeetha Nikethan and singers Lalitha and Haripriya, who are popularly known as the Hyderabad sisters, gave him a cash prize of Rs 2000.
Although she knows Aditya is talented and wishes to take up music seriously, Yamini is aware that classical music is a competitive field and would like her son to keep his options open.
“Right now, it is still at a hobby level. I don’t know whether he will take it to a professional level. But I want keep options open. He will be appearing for his exams and also continue attending computer classes. But no one can keep him away from music, he loves all the melody songs and listens very carefully. Let’s see where things go. I’ll always be there to support and train him,” she says.