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Reading Time: 8 minutes

Santosh tells us about Sunny, a nonverbal autistic child, the trials and tribulations of his parents, in the Special Feature. A Different Truths exclusive.

The window was open enough to let in the cool night air.

He stood near the window looking out. Suddenly his eyes fell on something, and he started running out of the house; his father, who had just returned home after an intensely boring meeting, ran after him, but the harm had already been done.
“Don’t do it, don’t do it!”

But Sunny, the nine-year-old boy with blue eyes, curly hair and the sunny smile was not listening.  He was trying to yank away the ice-cream from the vendor’s hands.

“What is he doing? Why do you let him out of the house? He should not be let loose on the streets.” The ice-cream vendor remarked, glaring at Prateek, the boy’s father…

“What is he doing? Why do you let him out of the house? He should not be let loose on the streets.” The ice-cream vendor remarked, glaring at  Prateek, the boy’s father, a tall, well-built man, with pleasant looks, who said nothing, merely caught hold of the child, and pulled him away from the ice-cream vendor, whose job of selling ice-creams seemed to have infiltrated his very being.
He was sheer ice.  Very cold.

“Dad, why was he so rude to our Sunny?” Dimple, his fifteen-year-old daughter asked through incipient tears.

“Well, these people ….” His words trailed away into sad, thoughtful silence, as he looked furtively at Sunny who was now in his own world of bliss, smiling to himself. He seemed to have forgotten all about the ice-cream. His hold on his hand became tighter, as they crossed the road.
“Don’t tell anything to mom, okay, sweetheart?”
“Okay, dad,” she said throttling a sob.

And the three of them headed home, hands clasped tight, as though fortifying themselves against the whiplashes of a turbulent world.

And the three of them headed home, hands clasped tight, as though fortifying themselves against the whiplashes of a turbulent world.  They were going home, without having bought ice-cream for Sunny.
“When I grow up, I will see to it, that my brother speaks and sings and….” Her resolve tapered off and she burst into uncontrollable sobs just outside their home.
“No, sweetheart… don’t … stop crying, see how Sunny is looking at you, hush, wipe your tears, mom will be upset.”

Every night, after dinner they would go out to have ice-cream, as Sunny just loved to gorge on ice-creams, especially the chocolate cones.  Today, the happy-go-lucky ice-cream vendor, where they usually had their ice-cream was not around. In his place stood a bellicose looking man, sheathed in a thousand and one frowns, oozing buckets of bellicosity.
Prateek suddenly remembered the day Sunny was born. The excited father had barged into the hospital room, where the mother and child lay, shielded in a cocoon of love, and had immediately lost his heart to the child by his mother’s side, smiling sunnily in his sleep.

“We will call him Sunny,” he had said, kissing Anisha on the forehead.

“We will call him Sunny,” he had said, kissing Anisha on the forehead.
“He has such a sunny smile.” She had repeated, as the tiny bundle had again smiled in sleep.

Dimple had been overjoyed, telling everyone over the phone that she was now a big sister, to a tiny bundle born six years after her birth.

“I think something is amiss Prateek, Sunny is almost two, and he just gurgles and chortles … has hardly any eye contact … he has problem listening …a learning disability,” Prateek was apparently not listening, to what  Anisha was saying, as she accosted him one day. But his mind was all abuzz, with what he had been reading on the net.

“He will speak, don’t worry. Just the other day  I was reading an article where a doctor was quoted as saying that sometimes a child is too lazy to make the effort of speaking…may be our Sunny boy is too lazy”, he said, looking at Sunny, who was once again , smiling that cute, sunny smile that had given him his name.

That was the day Prateek had started wearing masks – a mask of indifference, everything-is-hunky-dory mask, the happy-go-lucky mask, the escapist mask…

That was the day Prateek had started wearing masks – a mask of indifference, everything-is-hunky-dory mask, the happy-go-lucky mask, the escapist mask, – but when the house was asleep, he would quietly remove these masks, and talk to the darkness, pour his wrath into its depths and read and read on Autism.

A jovial school teacher, adored by his students and a passionate bird-watcher, that was the day, he felt like a pathetic rodent at the receiving end of a shrike’s butchery, striking a vicious boathook, splintering and smashing his unprotected head.

In the morning when he woke up, carefully wearing the happy-go-lucky mask, and headed towards the kitchen to prepare the morning tea, he heard footsteps behind him.

She stood, looking so vulnerable in her nightdress, almost like a teenager, although her fortieth birthday was just a week away.

“You know, Prateek, I could not sleep the whole night,” Anisha, remarked, knuckling away the remnants of sleep from her eyes.
She stood, looking so vulnerable in her nightdress, almost like a teenager, although her fortieth birthday was just a week away.

“Here,” he said, handing her a coffee mug, and pecking her on the cheek.

The coffee mug in his hand almost shivered by the vehemence of her tone. He had never seen her in such a vile temper.

“I don’t like your laid-back attitude. We will have to go to the doctor.  I remember he was such a bright little boy, so full of promise, so full of …and we were so full of dreams for him…”
“Hmmmm.”
“You cannot hmmm away this issue, dammit! You better realise we have a real problem in our hands.”  The coffee mug in his hand almost shivered by the vehemence of her tone. He had never seen her in such a vile temper. The moment she saw the look of shocked disbelief on his face, she immediately regretted her outburst, and burst into tears of regret, muttering apologies.
“I don’t know what came over me, I …”
“Hush, sweetheart …I understand, stop crying.” She knuckled away her tears, and both sat down on the two chairs in their snug kitchen.
“We will go to the doctor tomorrow,” he said replenishing her coffee mug.

Although he had been feigning indifference, in his heart, he already knew.
And his shriek merged with the darkness, “Why me? Why us? Why Sunny?” Through it all, Sunny smiled.

And smiled.

“Nonverbal – nonverbal – nonverbal”. These words were drilling holes in his mind – big, crater-like holes.

The doctor was a kindly soul, and Prateek already knew what he was saying, “Autism is a spectrum  …ASD…AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER” …His words seemed to be hammering on his head, some are highly functional, they can drive, live and work independently, difficulty in sensory integration, genetic factors, environmental factors, the combination of both … no eye contact … nonverbal ..Some require specialist support…”

“Nonverbal – nonverbal – nonverbal”. These words were drilling holes in his mind – big, crater-like holes.
Why we, why me? Why Sunny?

“What will happen, when we are not around?”
“We will cross the bridges when we come to them”, Prateek said, kissing her on the cheek.
“But the bridge seems to be just around the corner.”

Sunny was a big boy now, a nine-year-old; a nonverbal autistic child, with a pair of eloquent, smiling eyes.

Sunny was a big boy now, a nine-year-old; a nonverbal autistic child, with a pair of eloquent, smiling eyes. As his parents looked at him, snuggled on the sofa, he slowly slipped into his secret hiding place, his eyes fixed on his mother. If he could speak, he would speak something like this:

 “It’s just the way, I am, why should you be sad, mommy? I am just different, I don’t understand why people look down upon me or start whispering among themselves, I am just different, why should my being different bother them? So what, if I don’t like to shake hands, it’s not as if I don’t like them, no I am just made differently. The difference should be celebrated, no?  I understand what you are trying to say, but I am just slow… I felt bad when they tried to take me back to the class the other day, and I threw a tantrum, but why don’t they understand, that I am different? You know, even when I am sitting alone, I am not lonely, why don’t they understand, mommy?  When those girls giggled and turned away from me, mommy why did you look so sad, it hardly troubled me, you know.  So what if I am cranky at times, I love the cartoon channels, and I love you mom, and I love you dad and I also love to paint, and I love Dimple so much …when I met my home tutor for the first time I ran and hid under the table, but that is the way I am, I am different, just as the others are different. You hear my smiles, don’t you? You hear the happy musical notes pouring forth from my artwork, don’t you?  Hear the notes of love throbbing in my smile, don’t you? Don’t you, mommy, don’t you? That is why I smile such a lot. Smile and smile. My smiles speak. So how can I be non- verbal? You know how to read my smiles, others don’t, that is why I get angry at times and throw tantrums.”

“Wear your socks, Sunny.” Prateek said lovingly, as Sunny got up from the sofa.

And for the first time in his nine years, Sunny, who had relentlessly been shown how to wear his socks, to no avail, bent down and painstakingly pulled up his socks.

And for the first time in his nine years, Sunny, who had relentlessly been shown how to wear his socks, to no avail, bent down and painstakingly pulled up his socks.  He patted them in place and looked at his parents for approval.  The parents smiled a shaky, triumphant smile. Then, still smiling a gawky little smile, Sunny walked towards his parents and kissed Anisha on her right cheek.
“Me too”, said Prateek, tapping his left cheek.
He ignored him totally and headed back towards his sofa and nestled snugly into his secret hiding place, lost to the world, smiling to himself, eyes fixed on his mom.

Small successes and small triumphs, topped with big smiles were all that his life was all about.  Every day, every moment, every second.

“Time for ice-cream”, his eyes spoke, tugging his shirt.

What an amazing amount of energy he puts in to survive every day.  Every small victory was a victory over Mount Everest.

“Yes, oh yes”, he said, catching hold of his hand, and heading towards the door. Ah, the pleasant ice-cream vendor had come back, Prateek smiled, heading towards the spot, thinking of the unscripted saga of his nine-year-old’s life – nothing planned, everything unpredictable. What an amazing amount of energy he puts in to survive every day.  Every small victory was a victory over Mount Everest. He loved the piano, he loved playing with the blocks, red, green, blue.
And he loved to smile.

The ice-cream vendor was smiling in Sunny’s direction.
Another triumph.
Sunny smiled back, pulling up his socks.

Photos from the Internet


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