Cats, autism and overcoming prejudices

Karan and the cat

So that’s Karan sitting on the doorstep of our house. That’s an abandoned cat. To cut a long story short (although if you want the long story, here it is), she was most likely left behind by her owners and she’s adopted our garage as her base, while she roams around for most of the day along with many other stray cats in the area.

One day, we were doing something in the garden so I brought Karan outside, and here they are, sitting next to each other, ignoring each other. I love this photo since it just shows how aloof both are. Yesterday, Karan and the cat (female, but I’ve named her Vader) were just staring at each other… Karan standing, with Vader at his feet looking up at him. It was really cute to see!

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BrainPop: What is Autism?

Came across a link to a video on Twitter which explains what autism is in a simple way and is created for children.

With a cartoon character and a robot discussing the issue, it breaks down the bare elements of autism in a concise and easy-to-understand manner.

Try and help your kids understand what autism is, and hey, if adults don’t get it either… this is a good place to start!

Link to video

Autism awareness month supported by Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi

Note: I don’t normally post press releases on my blog, but I felt this one warranted a post 🙂 There’s a few activities for members of the public to get involved with, so if you’re in Abu Dhabi around that time, why not?

As part of Hyatt Hotels & Resorts’ international Global Month of Service, Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi has partnered with Abu Dhabi Cause Connect to support World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) through a full month of initiatives to raise awareness on autism.

“As part of our on-going commitment to Hyatt Thrive and our local community, hosting and organising weekly activities throughout April (World Autism Awareness Month) was undoubtedly an important yet easy decision as it is a cause all our employees are committed to,” said Ashwini Kumar, Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi general manager, in the statement.

One in every 88 children is diagnosed with autism and each year, more children are diagnosed with autism than with juvenile diabetes, AIDS or cancer, combined.

“Awareness is the first step to early detection. It is important for us to engage the community so that there is increased dialogue about how to recognise autism and how to find the proper help and support for your child,” said autism consultant Nipa Bhuptani. “Early intervention plays a large role in increasing the quality of life of children, family and their caregivers.”

“Our employees are volunteering their time towards increasing awareness and acceptance of autism families in Abu Dhabi,” added Kumar.

These are the activities Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi is working on:

Hotel Fundraising – 2 April
From WAAD until the end of the month, Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi will ‘Light it up Blue’ by switching all of its exterior building lights to blue – the recognised hero colour of Autism Speaks – to mark its commitment to the cause.
Guests visiting Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi will have the opportunity to assist children with autism by adding a ten dirham donation to the end of their bill at any food and beverage outlet, Rayana spa and at check-out.

Employee Education – 2 April
To ensure all employees of Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi are able to share informed knowledge about persons with autism, awareness and early detection, Nipa Bhuptani will provide an educational seminar to not only increase awareness amongst hotel staff, but to also allow staff to share their learning with all guests they interact with. All employees will be wearing a colourful puzzle piece ribbon on their lapel throughout April, and thus the hotel encourages all guests to please speak to its employees about this important initiative.

Art Display and Auction – 7 April
To celebrate the unique talents and skills of people with autism, from 7 – 30 April, various art pieces will be on display on level 18 of Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi, in reception, the lounge and the hotel’s signature restaurant, 18 Degrees (18˚).
Painted and drawn by children with autism, approximately 25 pieces will be displayed and showcased to all guests entering the hotel. Art pieces are available for purchase at a price dictated by the buyer as a donation. All monies received from the sales will be put towards purchasing ‘wish list’ items for autism schools and centres.

Fun Day – 20 April, 9:30am
To warmly welcome and embrace children with autism, a day for these unique individuals and their families will be hosted by Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi at the Corniche Beach. The hotel will not only be donating snack boxes for the children, but employees will also join the event to personally play and engage with, and support all that attend.

Inaugural Launch of Support Network for Parents – 24 April, 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi will host the launch of Abu Dhabi’s first parent support network for autism families, led by Nipa Bhuptani. Although the prevalence of persons with autism is high in the capital, no formal support network currently exists. All parents that have children with autism are invited to attend the launch.
For parents in need of additional relaxation, a complimentary coffee break and yoga/meditation session will also be hosted from 6:00pm – 7:00pm by Rayana Spa, located on level 19 of the hotel. Prior registration is required and availability is on a first come first serve basis.

For those wanting to attend the Fun Day and / or Launch of the Support Network, please contact Nipa Bhuptani at nipa@nipabhuptani.com or +97150 7929965.

When lunch didn’t go according to plan

As I’ve posted before, I have been trying to take Karan out for lunch to different restaurants to get him used to new places, and not stick to a usual routine.

Anyway, one place which we regularly go to is Aappa Kadai in the Dubai Marina. Not only is the food good, they’re pretty accomodating when Karan decides now is the time to belt out loud noises.

Karan has been really good every time we went out – so I wasn’t too surprised when we had an off day. Even for an “off day” though, it wasn’t too bad. We settled down in the restaurant, ordered some food, and Karan started eating the kababs (which he is madly in love with). He’d eaten maybe two kababs when…

… a small girl at the next table (perhaps 4 or 5) started talking. I don’t know what it was about her voice, bless her, but it riled my 17-year-old hulk up. I have a hunch it was her pitch and tone, because he’s normally okay around kids for most part, but sometimes noisier ones just upset him. It’s not their fault – they’re being kids! Karan’s just got sensitive hearing :-/

Anyway, she kept talking, and Karan started getting irritated. I was sitting next to him and he started doing something he hasn’t done in a while and reserves only for when he’s getting annoyed: pulling my clothes with a grip that’s nearly impossible to escape. I think initially when it used to happen, it was embarassing – one, because we live in the Middle East, and two, because my family is Indian. Both reasons lend to embarassment when clothes are pulled, bra straps etc are shown and whatever else. I’ve always maintained when he used to do this before, that I better wear good underclothes when I go out because I’ll be damned if he pulls my clothes and shows off icky underwear (people who deal with similar situations…you’ll understand! Even my Mom got around to this method of thinking).

So he started doing that and refusing to eat. I just placed my hand over where he was pulling so as not to give away more of a free show than he was offering. My dad suggested we leave. I refused saying if Karan didn’t want to eat, that’s his problem, but I’m getting my food first. However when my bra strap peeked out despite my best efforts, my parents needed to be calmed down. A centimetre of my bra strap showing ISN’T going to tarnish my honour guys, just calm down. Yeah other tables might be staring, but that’s their problem, not mine.

I eventually told Karan I didn’t appreciate having my clothes stretched, slowly extricated myself from his grip (which is tough because it’s vice-like) and sat on the edge of the table where he couldn’t reach me. We finished our food, and only then did we leave. His food was packed, and at home he was hungry and ate it up.

He’s got to learn that we’re not going to pack up and run – there are going to be many kids in the world being annoying/grating to his ears. I think the more he goes out, the more he’ll adjust. If we pack him away, he’ll never learn to cope with a range of experiences.

I don’t want to expose him to more distress than necessary, but we need to get him comfortable with this big, crazy world, right?

Accept the difference. Don’t ignore it.

The following image from www.postsecret.com

[autism.jpg]

When I saw this post, I started thinking about those who deny the existence of special needs in their children, and withhold from them the opportunity to get any therapy that might be needed.

I’ve come across those who are offended at the idea that their child might have “something wrong” with them. I’ve come across others who find the suggestion laughable: “My child? Special needs? Haha, what nonsense!” and then, there are those who just behave as though everything is fine and blankly ignore any suggestions from well-meaning others to perhaps get some help? When people say: “I can’t believe her teacher/doctor/whoever said we should get her checked for <insert whatever special needs term you like here> … I mean, she’s just a little different, but that’s no reason to label her!” I’m not sure what to say … what’s wrong with getting your kid tested?

And what is this stigma attached to special needs? The concept that people who are differently abled from the majority of the population as being “lesser” than everyone else is revolting. Sure, not all those with special needs are geniuses…but they’re pretty cool anyway. Just like you and me.

I wish parents would understand: if there is even a small chance your child has some kind of special needs, getting help is not a bad thing. Labels mean nothing nowadays. Labels are what you make of them. IT’S OKAY if your kid has autism. Or Down Syndrome. Or Fragile X. It’s going to be difficult, sure. But the “label” is not going to ruin anyone’s life. Not unless you let it.

I’m not even saying to go with one opinion. Take two. Or three. But if everyone says the same thing, get help. Please. Don’t ruin your child’s life by being too late.

Lunching with my brother

I’ve been trying to get Karan to go out for lunch every weekend, at least once, so that he gets out of the house instead of staying cooped in. So far we’ve experimented as a family (all four of us), as a trio (Karan, my Mom and I) and today, it was a duo date – just Karan and I.

I took Karan to Aappa Kadai in the Dubai Marina a while back, and he fell in love with their kababs and mango lassi.

So today, when it was just the two of us, I decided to go back there. I quite forgot about the time, and ended up there around 2.40pm rather than much earlier.

It was packed.

I decided to order the food as take-away, but the staff members there (who recognised Karan and I from our many outings there) said one of the tables was clearing soon. So I gave my order and waited. They were really cool about it…gave Karan a chair to sit on so he wouldn’t get agitated.

I did get the usual stares from the pre-dominantly desi crowd. But there was one woman there, with her husband and two kids. She looked at Karan for a bit, but it was different from the usual weird stares I get. She then looked up at me and smiled.

I felt much better instantly – till that point I was fretting a bit about whether Karan would wait for the tables to clear, whether he would get upset because he was angry. She, however, with a smile that said to me: “Hey, hope you’re okay!” , made me feel just a little less worried.

A table did clear up within 10 minutes or so, and Karan gobbled up loads of kababs and his customary mango lassi. He was really cute… he was quite hungry and every time a waiter walked past with a tray of food, he would straighten up and look at the tray hoping it was for him.

Honestly, the staff at Aappa Kadai are absolutely lovely when it came to dealing with us. We’ve never told them Karan has autism or anything, but they’ve always treated us well. And that is why I love going back. Apart from their crazy good food of course!

Apologies in many forms

It’s been a while. Hello there.

A lot is my fault – I have been so caught up in work, I have not been able to pay full attention to this blog, or any of my blogs.

But anyway, apologies are in order.

A lot has been happening with Karan. He’s got his summer vacations now, and is fully installed at home with my mother. Perhaps I need to remind her this blog exists, because she, not I, will be able to tell you more about what’s happening with him right now.

He’s 16 as you know, and it’s now showing through facial hair growth. I think he’s going to have to learn how to shave soon. Not looking forward to that…feels daunting. Not that I’ll be doing that, since I’m not at home very much.

Last night I came home early and curled up with a book on the sofa, and he sat next to me, with his head on my shoulder. I missed him and I felt gratified to know he missed me enough to want to cuddle up next to me for a bit (in 10-15 minutes his attention wandered and he walked off haha).

While he sat there, tranquil, as I read my book, I felt a bit sad. Like I haven’t done enough. I remembered some of my Gappa’s last words to my mother: “I’m sorry I didn’t do enough for Karan.” I felt like that last night. I think I have tried, as much as I can, to do enough for him. I know I am limited by time constraints, like a 9-6 job for example, and having my own life outside of my home, but that doesn’t make me feel okay about it I think.

So I try and contribute by helping spread the word about autism and special needs-related events, I try and find things my brother can go to, like his painting classes with START, or finding places where he can get evaluated and get more therapy. Things like that.

Spreading awareness where I can.

It’s been harder lately, again because of time constraints, but I do try.

Even so, I feel like I need to apologise…not to anyone else, but to Karan.

I’m sorry Karan, because I wish I could do more. I love you fatso.