Autistic people are often gifted. With support from family, teachers and professionals they can realise their latent potential and make valuable contributions to society

Autism, a condition that makes people ‘turn inwards into themselves’, is often written about and discussed. But what we should take cognisance of is the fact that if we help those with autism realise their amazing hidden potential, both they and the world stand to gain tremendously.

Notwithstanding their lack of communication skills, reclusiveness and seemingly strange mannerisms, those with autism often have some special ability or the other, and one in ten are savants or gifted individuals who know things without learning about them in areas such as music, math, art, etc., or even have extrasensory perception (ESP), telepathy, precognition and clairvoyance! The World Health Organisation mentions that currently about one in 500 persons has autism, and that the numbers are rising.

Timely intervention will decide whether a child with autism will succeed in life or fall by the wayside. “By not recognising and channelling their abilities, we aggravate their behavioural and other problems,” says Mythily Chari, an expert on autism-related issues, founder of the Institute for Remedial Intervention Services (IRIS), who has been helping hundreds of autistic children channel their potential over the last 25 years.

“Children with autism perform better in their areas of special interest in spite of having a poor IQ score,” says Dr. Darold Treffert, an authority on autistic savants, via email. “We should not lose out on the exciting gifts they have,” Mythily says.

Convert weakness into strength

People with autism might display strange behaviour such as inappropriate giggling, hyperactivity, obsessive compulsive disorder, and obsessive behaviour (repeatedly tapping or sniffing). “Amazingly, this just happens to be self-administered therapy to release their innate anxiety and tension. It just has to be channelled and converted into the child’s strength,” says Mythily Chari. For instance, if a child is prone to repeated tapping, rather than restraining him, why not introduce him to drumming; he might turn into a great drummer. Likewise, if a child tends to keep jumping, introduce him to gymnastics or karate. “A trampoline in his classroom or at home would help. Allow him to jump on it whenever he wants to. The kid will return to his desk on his own. And if he tends to sniff people and things, which is socially inappropriate, give him an inhaler or a scented eraser, which he can sniff in a socially acceptable manner,” says Mythily Chari, adding, “understand the children. If they keep moving about, it is because they are fast learners and get bored in classes which tend to be repetitive.” If a child is verbally non-communicative, give him a laptop or a notebook so he can key in or pen his thoughts or sketch them. Do not stop communicating just because he doesn’t reciprocate. “Though he might not respond, the child receives all the spoken information in his mind, and he will be able to draw from it when he is ready to speak,” advises Mythily Chari. And since many autistic children read before they talk, the power of the printed word should be used optimally.

Then, of course, there are the autistic savants who might be unable to tie their shoe laces or sit through a conversation, but have some absolutely stunning ability, like the ability to speak foreign languages they’ve never learnt or heard, or some special ability in math, music or science, etc., or extraordinary memory, visual-spatial cognition, etc. “Give them the chance to realise their potential,” says Mythily, who has worked with a few savants across the country.