At a time when special schools and day-care centres were less accessible to the average citizen, an institution was set up in 1997 with the long-term vision of the care of differently-abled adults. The Association for Mentally Handicapped Adults (AMHA), in Karyattukara, Thrissur, was established by former college professor P Bhanumathi as a residential facility for people with special needs.
For the average Thrissurian, Bhanumathi, known fondly as Bhanumathi Teacher, is a familiar figure who has always welcomed people to AMHA, her home and life mission. It is a facility that took shape from a personal experience. Of her seven siblings, three were autistic and one died without proper medical care. As her parents got older and the question of looking after her autistic brothers popped up, Bhanumathi had the answer, and she has not looked back since.
Amid her busy professional life as a lecturer in the zoology department at Thrissur’s Sree Kerala Varma College, Bhanumathi launched AMHA with her own savings. The support of local residents followed, which allowed her to shift the institution to a building of its own in 2000.
The institution that was launched with just three people now has 60 inmates, of which 30 are non-residents. In addition to the day-care facility for adults, AMHA has started an autism centre, which offers skill development for children on the spectrum. With unique and innovative facilities, the centre has been a major training and counselling centre for autistic children and their parents.
“At AMHA, we focus on helping differently-abled adults live independently. From training them in life skills, including cooking and dressing up properly, we wanted to help them stand on their own feet, with their own earnings. Products, including cloth bags and other handicrafts, made by inmates have been generating an income for them,” said Bhanumathi.
The institution also upholds the emotional health of inmates. “At times, people with limitations in taking care of their autistic children leave them at AMHA. But it takes the kids a while to adapt to the new surroundings. Considering the emotional strain, we insist on all our parents and guardians taking their wards back home at least once in two months. The happiness of children returning to their families is something to behold,” she added. AMHA, which provides free service, has been functioning for the past 26 years on the support of well-wishers and the determination of one woman.