A new pitch where some autistic boys gather every Sunday to have some fun

This clutch of young boys is all set for a bout of football, cricket, skating or perhaps outdoor photography for a change. It is Sunday morning after all. But what's new? Well, a lot. These boys, all so excited about chasing a ball or walking on wheels, are autistic. Well, don't hold your breath yet for they still have no clue that a Ronaldo or a Tendulkar exists. Or say Evan Lysacek as a skating rink hero. In fact, they are down below, still at various stages of grasping these skillful games.

Say in football, some have managed to hit the ball, some are just happy with a powerful air kick. Still, what's new? Well, it is this outdoor experience that is new. New for all of these boys — Abhimanyu, Vivaan, Ansh, Niraj and Vishu. An experience far different from the skills taught by the special schools some of them go to. This platform, an initiative of a set of parents and a young clinical psychologist, aims at teaching these boys how to negotiate outdoor space, meet new people and experience different places.

They call it Play Time Delhi. Clinical psychologist Kanika Kumar explains how it all started. “It was very spontaneous, I wanted to do something meaningful with special kids and Abhimanyu's father Madhusudhan Srinivas wanted to give him some outdoor experience.” One thing led to another and a little over two months ago, a bunch of five boys found themselves playing football at The Lodhi Gardens one Sunday.

So began the Sunday ritual. Every time the venue changes and with it the activity. “Last Sunday, we were at the DDA Sports Complex at Vasant Kunj. They did a bout of skating,” says Kanika, the driving force behind the activities. Every Sunday, a core team accompanies the boys to the venue. Talking about the need for such a platform, Kanika says though there are schools for autistic children in the city and some are doing a commendable job, there are not many facilities available for such children to spend outdoor time.

She shares her experience with these boys: “Initially, they were not friendly with me, they don't like new people. But now, they smile at me. Just the other day, I was surprised to note that Abhimanyu did a gesture he normally does to his father.” Also, she points out that the boys behave quite differently at home and outside. “Niraj's mother has understood that and she doesn't come with him anymore,” she says.

The age group of these boys varies from 11 to 25. The group keeps in touch with each other through Facebook. “We have a Facebook account called PlaytimeDelhi. Look out for it to see some nice pictures of our playtime. Also, we have uploaded an album of photographs clicked by Vishu, he froze some amazing frames,” adds Kanika. The Facebook account has over 100 members, many of them friends, friends of friends and well wishers.

Larger aim

By June 2010, she says, “Öur aim is to turn Play Time Delhi into a fulltime NGO which provides this experience to special kids, not just autistic, not just boys.” Kanika knows that a lot of people in the city are now aware of autism and some might want to give their free time to it. “We are open to people joining us, in fact it is a good thing, it will make people appreciative of others' needs. But they should be sensitive enough to deal with such children,” she says.

She is particularly keen on welcoming autistic children to Playtime Delhi. The interested ones can log on to its Facebook account and leave a message in the inbox. And perhaps wait to have some fun the next Sunday morning.

(You can also buy Play Time Delhi T-shirts priced at Rs.250)

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