Early morning walkers in Jayanagar are used to one sight of a young boy jogging with his mother escorting him on her bike, around 5.15 am. The duo covers a distance of around two-and-a-half kilometres in 15 minutes to reach the swimming pool, signalling the beginning of their daily schedule.
You are reading the inspiring story of Shashank B M, a 15-year-old boy, who has been diagnosed moderately autistic with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder).
Shashank was just three years old when his parents observed his delayed milestones. He was hyperactive and hence admitted to a summer camp to keep him engaged. At the camp, he took a solo path and never mingled with anyone, which prompted his parents to take him to Bangalore Children's Hospital. “It was a very difficult experience initially. It was new to us and we had very little knowledge about autism. Ours is an extended family and we first took them into confidence. The doctor did a family counselling and met each and every one living with us. My in-laws gave me the full freedom to deal with the situation and said that they would follow whatever I did. It was important that everyone followed one path and demonstrated one way of handling him,” says Shashank's mother, Gayathri. “Even now the same pattern is being followed and I have not found any difference of opinion in the family at any time,” she adds.
Gayathri also recalled how she accompanied Shashank for his one-to-one therapy sessions in Malleswaram, often boarding two buses. According to her, these sessions helped the boy improve his public interaction skills. “To me, the bottom line has been to treat him like any other regular child of his age. We had lots of painful moments while trying to admit Shashank to a regular school. He has changed many schools until he got admitted to Mahathma Children's Home in J P Nagar, run by Dr Sheshagiri Rao, a psychologist. He is now in 9th standard and we are all excited since he will appear for 10th standard exams next year. He is okay in his studies,” says his mother, a housewife.
“I remember the teacher running to me once to say that Shashank was copying the notes looking at the board. He is good at rote memory or photogenic memory,” says Gayathri. His father Mahesh B J, a businessman, joins the conversation and says that the boy struggles in mathematics.
His parents enrolled him for a basketball coaching camp thinking that he would pick up lessons in team spirit. Despite being a sharp shooter bagging points, Shashank could never identify his own team members, nor could he figure out who his opponents were. The result: he would often pass the ball to the rival team. “So we decided to shift to swimming and in January 2008 he took the first plunge into the PMSC pool in Jayanagar. He fell in love with water and learned swimming within the stipulated 21 days. The head coach, John Christopher, has now become an inspiring soul for all of us. We are thankful to God to have a coach like John. By seeing Shashank's skills, many special children have started swimming sessions now,” says Mahesh.
Shashank's achievements speak volumes about the potential the kid has got. He is a name to reckon with at school and club-level swimming contests. This year, at the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports meet held in Bellary, Shashank bagged two golds in freestyle and breast stroke events. At another national meet held this year in Mandya, he bagged seven golds, one silver and a bronze and his overall medal tally now stands at over 50. “We are hopeful that he will be selected for the World Summer Games to be held in Los Angeles in 2015,” says Mahesh.
Rithika is just six years old and she is being referred to as Shashank's 'small mother.' When Rithika was born, Shashank was very curious to know more about her. “Their relationship is very special. He really likes her a lot. She too takes care of him like a small mother. When I am not around, she makes him do what ever I would have told him to do,” says Gayathri.
Hearing her speak about his sister, Shashank jumps into the fray. “My sister is learning Bharatanatyam. I want to learn drama. I wanted to become a pilot. But the aeroplane will fall down. So now I want to build a ship. I do not know what's inside it,” shashank says, with little bit of prompting. Interestingly, he enjoys watching plays at Rangashankara, a nerve centre for plays and playwrights in Bangalore.
“He is independent and with little guidance, manages well. I am out of the emotional journey and looking ahead very positively now,” says Mahesh, when asked to sum up his thoughts, dealing with a special child.
“To me, Shashank is my teacher. He opened up so many avenues for me. Now, I am battling each and every moment of my life to give the best of best to my son. I am proud to be a special child's mother. For me, it has been an inspiring journey so far,” says Gayathri.
“My ship will also swim like me,” Shashank too added a parting shot!