Communication without noise: Non-verbal autistic children express through words, poems, emotions

In February, Jyothi came across an American publication that gave autistic kids a voice. It got her thinking about a similar book with Indian voices.
Cover of Talking Fingers; the writers' team
Cover of Talking Fingers; the writers' team

Put Aadi Narayanan Nair, Aditi Sowyanarayan, Anudeep Kandula and Tarun Paul Mathew in a room and it will light up with animated expressions. You won’t hear a word spoken, though. These spunky youngsters from different parts of India are communicating by writing on paper or typing on their cell- phones. They are nonverbal autistic children (autistic people may have difficulty talking, but the nonverbal ones do not speak at all), who have come together in India’s first book that captures the voices of people like them.

The four are among the 16 writers––aged 10 to late 20s–– who have penned their deepest thoughts in Talking Fingers, which was recently released on Amazon. “Not speaking doesn’t mean not thinking! Not expressing doesn’t mean not feeling! Not talking doesn’t mean not having anything to say,” writes Mathew.

“The book shatters the myth that a non-verbal autistic person is a non-thinking person. It tells us that their silence can be more eloquent than the words of non-autistic people,” says Chitra Paul from Kochi, who co-edited the book with her friend Kandula Padma Jyothi from Hyderabad. Paul and Jyothi are Mathew and Anudeep’s, respective mothers.

The World Population Review 2022 pegs the number of autistic children in India at 88 per 10,000. Most of them are often homeschooled, which makes people doubt their thinking faculties. In February, Jyothi came across an American publication that gave autistic kids a voice. It got her thinking about a similar book with Indian voices.

“Chitra and I discussed the idea in the support group and began the groundwork in April,” says Jyothi.
Paul, who trains special educators, felt that regular essays may not do justice to the effort these kids make. She teamed up with Archita Basu, a special educator in the UK. Basu recommended including 20 insightful questions each writer would have to answer, which would be compiled as a book. Some of the questions are: When did you start communicating? How has communication changed your life? What do you want to tell sceptics who lack empathy?

“Learning to communicate only opened the floodgates and enabled the children to express their thoughts. As parents, we have seen their struggles and untiring efforts to reach this level. They wrote like a dream. We did not edit anything in order to retain the gist,” says Paul.

It took the two mothers a month to get answers from the 16 writers who live in different cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Mysuru, etc. Says Hyderabad-based Prashanthi Vankamamidi, mother of 12-year-old Shiva Sanjith: “My son has been an active blogger for the past two years. He is one of the two writers from Hyderabad. Most of the writers have been engaged in one form of writing or the other.” The youngsters turn the pages, chuffed to see their names in print. Ask them to sum up their feelings, you get a thumbs-up and goofy smiles. It’s as bookish as gestures can get.

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express