Original Link :

http://in.askmen.com/in-the-spotlight/1116595/article/this-29-year-old-is-fighting-the-good-fight-for-autism-aware

There are a lucky few in the world who are genuinely loved by all. And the minute you meet Andre Velho, that’s the kind of vibe you instantly get. Even watching him on stage (he loves to sing and play guitar with his band in his free time), you get the feeling that he’s so genuine and lovable that he could possibly get on with anyone.

 So then, it’s not surprising in the least that he found his way into a field that very few others would have gotten into–Autism Intervention and Behavioural Therapy at Sethu, a charitable trust based in Goa, whose mission it is to be a bridge between autistic children and their families, their schools and their communities, to foster their complete development through assessments, therapy, educational initiatives, training, awareness and capacity building.

 

We sat down with him to understand autism, his journey in this field so far, and what part everyone can play to help. And because of his palpable passion, he inspired us to get informed and will hopefully do the same for you.

1. Let’s start from the beginning. Was this something you always wanted to get into?How did you get involved such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

I knew I wanted to work with children. They have always intrigued me, but I thought I would be perhaps a child psychologist or a counsellor. In my BA third year, out of laziness I chose to do a compulsory paper with a group of classmates rather than on my own, hoping I wouldn’t have to do much work.

We (read: they) decided to do a paper on autism, something I’d never heard of before. As part of research for the paper, I met a couple of parents of children with autism. Their stories totally and completely blew me away. They spoke of symptoms and behaviours I’d never imagined children could display.

At the same time, a family friend who opened up many resource classrooms for children with additional needs in mainstream schools asked me if I would like to be a teachers’ assistant in one of her schools. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life, and thought this would be a good opportunity to gain some experience, and may be help make a career decision.

My year at the school was a huge learning experience and very soon, I knew that this was what I was born to do. But I had to study more and was given the opportunity to go abroad. I went to the UK for four years; studied and worked always with the intention of coming back, and giving back to the community that had given me so much. I studied MA SEN (ASD) course at University of South Wales’  to specialize in the field of education for those who have contact with children or adults on the autism spectrum.

2. Was there a pivotal moment that made you want to go down this road?

I had a dream during my time working as a teacher’s assistant before moving to Wales. I dreamt that one of the students I was working with who was non-verbal at the time, started speaking. And in my dream, I was so happy. I was happy not because I achieved something great, but because someone else did. That was when I realised that I really really love working with children with autism and I had to get better at it.

3. What have you learnt from choosing this career path?

Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.

4. What do you think are the biggest challenges of working in a space like disability?

For me, it’s the lack of awareness. It’s frustrating how little people in society, the government, education and medical professionals know about autism and disabilities. Policy makers are out of touch with reality about what families need, and what should be done to make life easier and to integrate them into society.

5. What are the things you are striving to change in this regard?

I participate in awareness creating events, conduct teacher training workshops, and encourage parents to know and fight for their rights.

6. What’s the biggest pay off for you? What have the kids taught you?

The children I work with and their families have taught me valuable lessons in strength, humility, honesty, empathy, patience, and charity. I have been privileged to work with families from so many different cultures, religions and backgrounds. My interactions with them have been heart breaking, heart warming, tear-jerking and humourous too!

7. For those who are still unaware, and considering it is Autism Awareness Month, tell us what autism is and what it affects, in the simplest way you can?

Autism is a developmental condition that affects the way people experience the world around them, and how they interact with others. People with autism hear, see and feel the world differently than we do. The world can be overwhelming to them, and this can cause them considerable anxiety. In particular, understanding and relating to other people, and taking part in everyday family, school, work and social life, can be hard.

8. Killing stigma and enabling parents are probably two of your biggest jobs. Tell us about an instance when you realised that you have succeeded in doing this.

I was once conducting a behaviour management workshop for primary school teachers. One particular teacher couldn’t fathom why one of her students with autism who was part of her mainstream class would not sit in place and participate in her classroom activities. I explained to her why children with autism can behave the way they do and I gave her a couple of simple tips she could try. This was an ‘Aha’ moment for her, and I felt very proud of myself. She later got in touch to tell me that she felt more empowered to support this child, and she was starting to do well in her class.

9. What is the situation in India like now in terms of autism awareness?

More and more children are being diagnosed with autism in India, but they do not have access to the services that they need. There is a huge lack of awareness and misunderstanding among pediatricians who do not, or do not accurately diagnose.

Generally in India, there is stigma attached to disability of any kind… feelings of embarrassment and shame, blaming parents for not providing adequate care. There is a lot of work to be done to take the movement of raising awareness forward. Parents, relatives and professionals need to come together, work as a team and advocate for the rights of people with autism who are so vulnerable and marginalised.

10. If someone wants pursue your kind of career, what is the advice you’d give them?

If you want to be good at this, you need to have a passion for children. You have to be willing to work hard, learn and adapt to new techniques, and keep updating yourself on best practices.