Devangana Mishra, founder of Brain Bristle, works with children on the autism spectrum. In conversation with The Health Pioneer, she asserts that society needs to work with autistic children individually at a deeper level to bring out their best abilities. Excerpts:
Why is autism still a subject we don’t fully understand?
Autism is a spectrum, ranging from severe to moderate to mild, lack of communication skills, reciprocity, eye contact, stemming and other such behaviours. Growth for each can look different or the same, how we push someone on the spectrum of autism forward is varied and with different ambitions and hopes than what might be possible for them or vice versa- as educators, what is right, what is wrong, what is enough and what has more scope is all so complicated and there's so much trial and error, who knows.
At what point do we give up on intervention for those on the spectrum of autism?
Honestly, I don't know, I do everything I humanly can until a child is 18, then I give up and see what goes on from there on. By that I mean, I teach them everything that an adult would need or read- the daily news, romance, sex, cinema, dialogues, texts to send, what to wear on a date, how to dance at prom, how to sit while at dinner, what can you do if you can't do math, how to cheat at tests, how to cheat at everything but still be as good as one can possibly be, how to just figure life as smoothly as one can while being on the spectrum - and then I cross my fingers and hope for the best results possible.
Do you think that mental health and autis, how tangled they are.
You can't say one without the other, growth or experimentation for someone on the spectrum of autism can go haywire, then get back on track, then fall all over again, then find a way again, it's so complex- imagine you decide to run a marathon, you twist your ankle, you have a choice to call for help and be airlifted or wobble back or let it heal while you lie back there then run or walk the marathon path until you can run again. It’s all a mix of everything and that's how autism and mental health works for you and me, but even more importantly for someone on the spectrum of autism, as a teacher I could set them up for excellence but then what they do could be a total crash, who knows--it's all a guesswork for us to see.
Why do we historically have such few disruptions like Einstein or Bill Gates or Ramanujan or Hannah Gadsby in the space of autism, why not more such stories?
It's the same, education is so large and expansive and curricular and rule based, and the time from the ages of 3 to 18 is just not enough to prioritize where to close and where to expand for someone on the spectrum, sometimes educational interventions turn out right or sometimes a child gets an idea because of being caged and they break out and create something grand. It's all a mix of everything. It's almost like why do we have so many scientists yet so few who win the Nobel Prize eventually. But one thing is certain. Autistic children are different for a reason. They can shake up systems if given the right guidance.
What inspired you to take up the cause of people with autism?
I met my first grown-up with autism when I was 19 and the complete disregard for his giftedness led me to Columbia University, NY to study autism in detail and depth. This is how my journey with the autism spectrum began.