‘Repair almost anything’, said the board Rizwan Khan carried. The protagonist in 2010 blockbuster ‘My name is Khan’ was suffering from Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. Like Rizwan’s special gift in repairing anything mechanical, autistic children are gifted with special abilities. “Sometimes these abilities are blessings, sometimes maledictions,” says Bindu Murali, Chairperson of Amma Special School for Autism, Pappanamcode.
“There is a 39-year-old autistic man in our school who likes to clean spider webs all the time. Spider webs are his biggest distraction. He picks up a broom and cleans it standing on a stool. Recently his broom got caught between the fan wings making a loud noise and he got scared. So he has restrained himself from cleaning a bit,” says Bindu.
Unlike feature films, ‘normal life’ for these children is more often than not, a far away dream, clarifies Bindu. Not many parents know developmental disabilities such as autism are incurable. They live dreaming the day their offspring act like other normal children.
“I have to deal with parents who come everyday and ask what the recent development is or what improvement they have had in a week. In the case of autistic children, there is not going to be a change in their condition. There is no cure we can offer except taming the disease a bit,” says Bindu.
Bindu, who started the school around five years back with the sole resolve to give special care to autistic children, has a very personal journey to recall.
“The reason for starting the school could be my son, who is autistic. Though I wouldn’t say it was the sole reason. When we identified my son’s condition when he was around four-years-old, we sent him to many special schools but soon realised that nobody but me had the patience and love to take care of him.”
During those days when Bindu was looking out for special schools, there were not many available for autistic children. The schools for mentally challenged were the only option they had. She sent her son to one of those institutions and quickly learnt that it was a bad decision. While mentally retarded children are quite passive, autistic children can be fierce and violent. Her son couldn’t adjust with the school’s ways. Soon Bindu decided to take care of her son by herself at home.
“I have looked after him for two years by myself. He was quite violent at times but I could manage him single handedly. This made me realise that with the right attention and care, their aggressive nature can be moderated though not cured,” says Bindu.
With few day scholars and trained faculty, Bindu started her school at her home in Pappanamcode around five years back. As the school expanded over the years, she rented a house for residential as well as teaching purpose.
This institute which accommodates only boys used to have around 23 students. Today, as she was requested to vacate the rented house, she is conducting classes in her home with very few students staying with her.
“There are not many who would willingly let their home be used for a school like this. So I decided to conduct classes for younger children at home. Most of them are attending classes as day-scholars,” says Bindu.
Bindu is a known face among Malayali audience for her roles in films like ‘Kasthuriman’, ‘The Car’, and many Malayalam serials. She had come into the acting scene with Sukumar’s Narma Kairali and later got her entry into celluloid with ‘The Car’. Today, she has cut down on her acting assignments to take care of the institute and her son. With her family’s - husband Muraleedharan Nair, an official with the Forest Department and younger son Vinay Krishnan, doing his MBA - unconditional support, Bindhu overcame the tides she faced in her journey. However, lacking a place to set up the institute due to the dearth of properly trained staff, ‘Amma’ is yearning for some external funding.