When peers turn ‘teachers’ for young adults with autism

Published - April 02, 2022 10:12 pm IST

At an awareness rally

At an awareness rally | Photo Credit: Photo: Sandeep Saxena

For close to two years, Sanjana D was the music and movement facilitator at CanBridge Academy, a space for young adults with autism. One might ask: What is so special about that? Fresh out of college, having pursued her bachelors in psychology, Sanjana was an unconventional facilitator who engaged her students, who were as old as her, by playing the piano and being a buddy to them.

“When I started, I was a little unsure about how it would go but the experience has taught me a lot including the fact that music can be a powerful medium of communication,” says Sanjana, who is pursuing her masters.

Shortage of special educators to work with adults with learning disabilities has given institutions working in this space an opportunity to bring youngsters on board.

Twenty-three-year-old Smrithi Ashraf has a full-time job with an MNC and is also a mentor for neurodiverse students enrolled at HashHackCode for coding classes. “I joined as an intern during the start of the pandemic when I was in college and this association continues,” says Smrithi, who in the last two years has worked with 10 students, each with different disabilities.

She says a mentor has to adapt as per each student’s medical condition. Two youngsters, one on the spectrum and the other with Down’s Syndrome, are among the older students she has coached. “One would call me during no-class days to discuss topics the way friends discuss things and the other wanted to become like me in coding and would try hard to understand the concepts,” says Smriti.

Some of them throw tantrums and have their mood swings, so if you are able to manage them then it’s big achievement, says Smriti.

Autism Awareness Month
HashHackCode is hosting a virtual gallery in the metaverse to showcase the works of its students in coding, art, music and other unique talents. The gallery can be accessed on a laptop or VR headset with the following link https://bit.ly/HHCAT2022 through the month. New works of the student will be updated in the gallery each week.

HashHackCode has more than 40 mentors in the age group of 20 and 25 years enrolled with them. They are taken after a stringent selection process where the candidate’s patience is also tested. They also get a renumeration for their work.

“A candidate goes through levels of mock classes to be groomed to face neurodiverse students,” says Smriti. She says language that is positive is used during the classes.

Anusha Swamy was 20 when she got associated with the Down Syndrome Federation of India as a choreographer.

One of her unforgettable events was getting the students to perform at the World Down Syndrome conference 2015.

She says the event was special as the students were performing before a large audience on a 60 feet stage with props. They trained for close to a month to be on stage for 15 minutes.

“It sent out a message to the audience that children with Down Syndrome are no different from other children,” says Anusha.

At Vasantham, a school and residential care center for people with special needs, whenever students from Speech Language and Hearing Science department of Sri Ramachandra University visit the campus there’s a different energy in the residents.

“We had these budding therapists come and paint the walls of the classroom and host a music session, and you know from the way our resident-students interact that it instils a new confidence in them,” says Krupa Murugesh, speech therapists.

Kavitha Krishnamurthy, founder, CanBridge Academy, says these young coaches or facilitators bring a different kind of orientation when working with special-needs adults. “No 24-year-old likes to be corrected constantly, so you have to deal with them differently. Even the tone needs to be different,” says Kavitha.

Working alongside an able-bodied individual is a step towards making them face their future inclusive workspace.

“We are constantly looking for more youngsters who can impart contemporary and current skills to special-need students, in music technology, photography and theatre,” adds Kavitha.

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