CHENNAI: Fourteen years ago, when a sceptical mother introduced her autistic son, Prem, to computers, she did not know that it would change his life for good. Prem, who is a 25-year-old youngster now, is defying all odds as an independent web developer. This birthday he had a special gift for himself — the launch of his professional website, codewithprem.in. Prem’s journey is a tale of success that will inspire many parents with autistic children.
Mangai, Prem’s mother, says her son was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was just three years old. “We figured that he could speak but not write. Later, he stopped talking as well.” Soon after, in search of an inclusive mainstream school for Prem, Mangai and her family moved all the way from Thoothukudi to Tiruchy.
Mangai worked in a public sector undertaking, while also volunteering as a special educator on the side. When Prem was 11, Mangai introduced him to the world of computers. “I was hesitant, but surprised when I saw his typing skills,” she tells Express. “He was great at it, and we wanted to put that skill of his into good use. By the time he was 15, he was training in data entry.” That, however, was not a great idea.
The monotony of data entry operations slowed down Prem’s enthusiasm in computers. That is when the family decided it was time to explore broader avenues. Mangai realised that the resource Prem needed to upskill his talent was not available in Tiruchy. In 2018, the family moved to Chennai. “We wanted to improve his communication skills as for most jobs that is a priority. He still struggles to string more than two words together,” says Mangai, who met Manu Sekar, the CEO and founder of HashHackCode, an institution that provides inclusive technical education and mentorship to all individuals regardless of background, abilities, gender, or age.
Many individuals with ASD have good skills, but often lack a set of tertiary skills that will land them in a job outside the retail industry, says Sekar. “Prem had terrific memory and typing skills. When we identify talent, we want to groom them to find their potential,” he says. His company has about 40 persons with ASD taking up various technical programmes. To broaden his trajectory Prem is now taking communication lesson to manage his business better. “Prem is technically independent. I want him to be independent in other aspects as well,” says the proud mother.