At New Horizon, an autism care centre in Bhubaneswar, seven-year-old Dhruv jumps excitedly upon seeing a visitor. He waves his hands, makes frantic gestures to indicate his desire to greet her. When the visitor greets him, he tries to verbalise his happiness, which is unintelligible — though his speech is not optimal, his sparkling eyes and bright smile speak a million words, instantly connecting the visitor with Dhruv, who is autistic.
Early recognition of the disorder and intervention improves the chances of an autistic child acquiring skills for a more independent functioning. In Bhubaneswar, very few centres cater to autistic children. One among them is New Horizon. Here, therapists take care of autistic children, meet their special needs, and provide them with early intervention to improve their skills. New Horizon currently cares for over 30 children in the age group of three-nine.
Alok Kundu, co-founder of New Horizon, feels when the condition is diagnosed early, an autistic child’s skills and interests can be identified and worked on. Besides improving their communication skills, the child’s activities can be channelled in that direction, whether it is music, arts or computers.
Alok started New Horizon on October 11, 2011, along with his friend Sudhendu Nayak. They studied occupational therapy at Vivekananda National Institute of Rehabilitation Training and Research, Odisha.
Sudhendu recently shifted to Bangalore after getting a job but Alok choose to stay back to nurture his young patients and the centre.
After completing a four-year occupational therapy course in 2010, Alok joined Astha Therapy Centre in Chandigarh. He returned to Bhubaneswar a year later to work for International Institute of Rehabilitation Sciences and Research. “When I returned to Bhubaneswar, I realised there was only one therapy centre for a large number of autistic children. It was clearly not sufficient. This was when both Sudhendu and I — Sudhendu was then working as a therapist in Bhubaneswar — decided to set up an autism care centre,” he rewinds.
New Horizon is housed at IRC Village in Bhubaneswar. There are five experienced therapists including Alok who look into sensory integration and development, special education, speech therapy and hearing, yoga and massage therapy. The centre uses a system of visuals, short instructions, and structured activities to guide children to function more independently. The therapists provide personal attention during the day, and parents are advised to continue with a similar set of instructions and activities at home.
While autism cannot be completely treated, greater awareness can help with produce successful intervention programmes, opines Alok. “People are not open to disability and this can hamper intervention. Coupled with this is the lack of funds, both private and government, for such care. A more sensitive and responsive approach would improve the care given to them,” he adds. Alok treats children at his centre during the day, and he also works as a therapist at Future Bhubaneswar School in the evenings.