The Kollam district panchayat has envisioned a unique concept to provide a safe atmosphere for autistic children and their parents. It plans to develop a special village — called Aardra Theeram — to accommodate families with kids on the spectrum. The programme is intended to improve the children’s lives through best practices and family-centered, all-encompassing care.
A budget of Rs 1.5 crore has been approved. The local body also intends to approach business associations, parents, and other governmental organisations for funding. Work on the project will start in the coming months, said P K Gopan, president, district panchayat.
The proposed village will accommodate nearly 100 families. The amenities will include an education centre, skills centres, playgrounds, hospitals, fitness facility, and movie theatre. In addition, it will have around 40 personal caregivers trained to tend to those with autism.
“This is slated to be the first-of-its-kind project by a district panchayat in the state. The project is expected to cost around Rs 30 crore. We will seek CSR funding from corporations as well as contributions from parents. Furthermore, if necessary, we will seek financial help from the state government,’’ Gopan told TNIE.
The project’s main objective would be to give children and their parents a safe environment, in addition to integrating them into society. The children will be cared for throughout their lifetime, even after their parents’ death.
The village will not be a restrictive place. Relatives and friends will be allowed to meet the children with the prior permission of their parents. Such an idea should be implemented in other districts as well, says Thressia N Johan, child psychotherapist. “Autistic children require special care and a secure environment. Most importantly, the responsibility of parents in raising children is critical.
That is why, first and foremost, parents must feel secure, and such efforts have always been welcomed,” she said. “In our society, parents worry about what will happen to their kids after they pass away. When they are not around, they worry about how their siblings or other relatives will take care of their kids. Aardra Theeram will attempt to address these concerns.
The children and their guardians will receive shelter. The amenities in the community will be provided free of charge. Our main objective is to reassure parents that their kids will be secure when they die,” Gopan added. Parents have welcomed the initiative, but caution against its commercialisation. “What will happen to our children after we die is what worries us.
This is a genuine worry. But usually, such a project is turned into a business, and that shouldn’t happen,” said Asha Suresh, the parent of a 17-year-old autistic child. “One cannot generalise care techniques for autistic children. Every kid requires individual care and attention.
Because children with autism do not have the same degree of imagination as normal human beings,” said Sheebha, who has an autistic child. “We must create a sequential teaching method for each child. Some children do have skill sets, but we need to comprehend their moods and behaviors’ before we can devise a method for developing those skills. As a result, such an initiative is positive, but its implementation will be critical,” added Sheebha, who also runs Mother Touch, a tuition Centre for special-needs children in Varkala.