Gurugram offers therapy and hope to small town families with autistic kids

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Shikha Sethi, a resident of Sirsa, moved to Gurugram about a week ago so her two-and-a-half year old son could receive therapy for autism—a neurobehavioural condition that was detected 20 months after she first started hounding her local doctors to check then four-month-old Ayaan.

She said she figured something was wrong when he would not respond to loud sounds or his name, and would cry excessively.

“I took Ayaan to several doctors in Sirsa, and all of them said he would stop crying soon and it was nothing to be worried about,” Sethi said, adding that since she wasn’t convinced by these assurances she came to the city for a final opinion, despite the financial strain. Doctors here diagnosed Ayaan with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and he is currently being given speech therapy, occupational therapy and special education.

Like Sethi, many parents with ASD children from smaller cities and towns have moved to Gurugram for therapy. Though the Civil Hospital has no autism centre, privately-run clinics provide a combination of interventions, such as occupational, sensational integration, neurodevelopment, speech and sports therapies.

Dr Himanshu Khurana, who runs one such centre in Sector 46, said, “Not all types of therapy needed for ASD are available in smaller towns. That’s one reason why people seeking treatment are moving to Gurugram.”

April 2 is recognised as World Autism Day and observed annually. Autism causes impairment in development, communication skills and social interaction and is difficult to diagnose before 24 months of age. But, experts said its signs and symptoms start showing in infants as young as six months. They added that when ASD is detected in infancy, treatment can work better and may even reverse some symptoms.

For Sehej Gupta, who came to Gurugram four months ago from Ambala, even accepting that her five-year-old had ADS was challenging. “When Mannan was diagnosed, my family refused to accept treatment. They insisted that his screaming and distracted behaviour was a phase and it would soon be over. There was no awareness in our community about autism,” she said, adding that her child has been going for therapy at a city clinic for a year now and has made great progress in communication. “Now, he can focus on tasks and has made friends at the centre,” Gupta said.

A 2018 research published in the PubMed Central journal states that early diagnosis and treatment with evidence-based interventions can significantly improve the quality of life of individuals with ASD as the brain grows quickly between the ages of zero and three.

Another woman and her four-year-old son moved to the city in January this year from Etawah in UP. She said she wasn’t able to comprehend her son’s behaviour as he wouldn’t sit still at a place and would avoid making eye contact. “After consulting several people back home, all of whom said he was just being naughty, I came here and enrolled him for speech and occupational therapy which takes place every day for three to four hours,” said the woman who did not wish to be named. However, she added, that treatment is expensive and she might have to return home, forcing her to stop the treatment.

Depending on the child’s capability, therapy can last for at least a year, if not more, and cost anything between ₹12,000 to ₹15,000 for 20 sessions; each day can have three to four sessions lined up.

About one in 100 children in India under the age of 10 are autistic, and nearly one in eight has at least one neurodevelopmental condition, stated a 2018 study by the International Clinical Epidemiology Network.

Experts said identifying such children at an early age can go a long way. “All infants and pre-school children should be screened for all neurological conditions at regular intervals. Parents’ concerns about development, language disabilities should be taken seriously, and educational institutions should make sure to act on it,” autism specialist Dr Vrinda Kumar said.