Research is something I rarely do. When the current topic of Robots / Humanoids – their intrusion or inclusion in our lives was tossed up I was told this would require me to do some research. The only humanoid I know is Chitti ( not even 2.0) from the movie Robot (Indian movie). I was a bit reluctant for you know I am lazy at another level. But going deep into the description about what we are expected to write about it I found it really interesting, so decided to “Hail Google”.
Well not beating around the bush and coming to the point I was very much interested to see how a robot or humanoid can prove or proving to be helpful for kids with special needs. As I scrolled down different pages available on the internet. It was really interesting to see how the introduction of humanoids is registering their importance in helping kids with special needs. Learning and communication have seen evident levels of improvement. And one thing I noticed is that as I was surfing different pages content of every page was different as in the countries where experiments were done, the robots involved, the figures and so on. Let me share a few examples :
International Robotics founder and President Robert Doornick says robots are especially effective at teaching socialization skills to autistic children. When kids interact with robots, he says, they “no longer worry about being criticized or judged by their behaviour or inadequacies, and are free to interact with a robot because it’s just a cool toy.” – This one is from the US.
Companion robot Matilda helps Australian teachers create engaging learning environments for special needs students while improving their cognitive skills – an example from Australia.
Meet “Alphabot,” our very own, interactive, 23-inch-tall humanoid robot who offers many new, exciting possibilities for students at Alpha School. This small, but mighty special education teaching tool is opening doors to the minds of our students. This is in New Jersey.
So every page I checked into opened up a can of new ideas for me about how can my child get benefitted if at all we introduce a robot to him. My child is autistic and obviously, socialization and communication are the blocks we are working on to tumble them as effectively as we can. With school and weekly sessions after schools through things moving in right direction no matter how slowly I am just wondering what could be the impact of having a big talking toy taking charge of effective interaction with my child in the way he likes (don’t think I am a billionaire, I am just toying with the idea)
As far as I know, my child, he does get attracted towards anything mechanical but his interests never sustain for a long time. For example a few months back we bought him a musical keyboard as I saw him interested in the same. For the first few days, he did play it, experimenting with different keys and kept himself engaged. As the keys no longer seemed to be suspense for him his interest waived off. On the other hand, he is still interested in the tablet (only watches for about 30-45 minutes in a day) as the visuals and the sounds are more interactive in the sense he sings along, learns along. There are many things like names of colours, animals & their sounds, numbers, alphabets, rhymes etc that he learned from YouTube apart from what we teach him. Going by what I saw I believe a fully loaded humanoid with artificial intelligence in the techniques concerning a kid with special needs could be of great help. The peculiar voice (for machine nevertheless it is and I would prefer it that way only) will be the first thing to engage his interest and with a toy interacting with him just the way he likes it communication is something I am expecting to improve.
Another area that slightly lacks my investment is spending time with my son. Though I try my level best to keep him engaged with me in many ways – cooking or plain talking or activities but I often sense that the amount of time devoted is less than what it takes, thanks to the circle of chores. A humanoid fully functioning for him I can be sure of the time spent interacting. And with the controls in our hand, his safety is something we can be sure of. And I also believe a robot can be an immense help in controlling him physically amidst his meltdowns. And who knows if it could give him a massage which I am unaware of targeting the correct points calming him down effectively. With my strength obviously on a descending note over the years to come to a helping hand handling him will a big advantage for obvious reasons that the involvement of a machine will surely pause his agitated momentum and he will take notice calmly.
Not just about communication I believe these mechanical replacements to human aid can go a long way in making them independent as in not dependent on any human being for their daily little needs. For instance, my son now daily throws a tantrum to brush his teeth which I feel is a result of his oversensitivity to things, in this case, the feel of brush on his teeth or gums. It’s a constant fight for me to make him brush his teeth, he really gets upset and tries to use violence (just flapping hands to ward off me) to escape it. Things could be different if it’s his toy friend in place of me. He can hold him more firmly and possibly get it done more smoothly. Might assist him in things like dressing up, wearing shoes, cooking up his breakfast and so on making him more and more independent. And that’s all in care for when I am gone.
Though an idea but I would say a wonderful one with a possibility of yielding better results when in tune with responsible humans for humanoids at the end of the day need commands/programming, for their processes thoughts are a result of our thought process. What say? I would love to have such a humongous toy for my son to be with him for life.
And the next scene, waiter scratching his head, “What does that mean?” 🤔.
Ok, that was just an exaggeration, nothing of that sort has happened so far. But trust me parenting is never an easy job. And unlike any other job it doesn’t come with a manual. So the foot is always on the pressure pedal. From healthy eating habits to good etiquette; from studies to extracurricular activities; from explaining them about their bodies to respecting their privacies – we have much more to look after and we can’t take up fancied portfolios as per our ease. I repeat parenting isn’t easy!
And the pressure of parenting a child with special needs is altogether a different ball game. Ask me!
In the year 2014 when it was finally established that my son is Autistic, I went blank. I sensed it, yet wished it not to be. Since then to this day it’s always been a run – from pole to post. With such a diagnosis tag, an entire army of questions spurt up in front you. Though I don’t belong to that school of parents who decide a career for their offspring even before naming them but I must confess that at this point of time I worry about his future. ” What would happen to him after us?”, “Who would take care of him?”, “What would be his future like?”, ” Will he ever be able to take up some formal education?” And the questions continue to infinity. The fear and pressure, looking at the world around is immense.
Soon after, the school was informed about the diagnosis and they took no time to ask us to take him out of the school as they were not equipped with the expertise to work with an Autistic child. I don’t blame them for that, trust me. It was the first jolt as he had no place to go by then and was still on the waiting list of the day care section of the hospital. But my prayers were soon answered and things kept rolling since then as far as his schooling was concerned as he later got a place in special school and he is continuing.
So where’s the pressure? Pressure churns when he is unable to express himself about the intangible things like pain for example, for he is still non-verbal (though now he has started uttering single words about the things he likes, for example: pasta, park, school bus 😁 etc.). And it’s equally difficult for him to comprehend “NO“. If he wants something badly he just wants it and won’t take a ‘No’ for an answer. I can’t explain the consequences to him as I could do to my daughter. He simply shuts himself down, though unintentionally. And that causes major meltdowns – could be a result of many factors, sometimes without any apparent reason. And when meltdowns strike, he goes all violent, shouts, cries, taps hands and legs on the floor vehemently, simply lies down on ground and that ground can be of a bus stop, pavement, supermarket, literally anywhere. And with people oblivious to your situation watching you with a judgmental overview, shivers are sent down the spine and the voice chokes while hands go numb and cold. While handling and calming him (which sometimes take really long and sometimes I am clueless about what to do) along with keeping an eye on the second child is enough pressure to take, explaining the onlookers “Why and What” is equally painful. I simply hate telling people about the issue, about why he is behaving absurdly. Few People tend to understand, few come forward to lend a helping hand but few make faces (really few so far, shall I care about them🤔?). Whatsoever maybe the reaction I always have a bated breath and watch of an eagle when out with him. Going to stay this way, at least for a while😟.
Also searching and booking a place for him in the activities during long vacations (Belgian calendar has too many for kids 😁) is nothing less than pressure cooker situation for me. With really limited number of places available, his constant need for individual attention makes it real tough for me to have one place ready for him. I usually start working three to four months in advance for he enjoys his activities, he enjoys discovering and I want him to. There are instances when I was rejected straightaway. Bearing it all and to be on a look out constantly is my job now. By the way, his autumn break is busy!😁
Who helps me out? Family and friends – too obvious, isn’t it? But I have an elongated list here:
Surprised you will be to learn that I owe Facebook too a thanks. When you read a lot of stories from all around the world from people sailing in the same boat on one page it definitely refills the depleting levels of confidence. It reminds me, “You are not alone and we are together, let’s make it a better place“. So many motivational and inspiring stories kicks in the positivism I need.
Organisations working for and with my son including his school. Their innovative ideas, patience and moral support have gone a long way in making things a bit better and every bit matters. They told me that “You Are Strong” and that helps, period!
A lady, my friend whom I am unable to meet often but we do have long conversations often (that’s technology for you 😁) and she is full of wisdom. Always gives a positive perspective of looking at things and instills courage in me. I can’t name her here since no permission taken but I would drop a hint to her – an experienced trainer of English language/ business communications. Thank you dear.
And last but not the least – my kids themselves. My daughter – just three of age but acts like my shadow to her brother, gives me a ray of hope. And when my son laughs with me, plays with me, embraces me, it seems he is giving me a message “mamma, you, me and God will set things straight“. By the way I forgot to tell you that he seems to be more inclined towards the supreme power as at home he spends a great amount of time singing devotional songs 😁😁.
Did I tell you that sometimes my son gets up at 3 or 4AM in the morning and demands a breakfast – that’s also a pressure – 😂😂😂.
And for all those who have free advise on what shall I do to raise my kids prim and proper I request, “Come walk in my shoes for once”.
Chiradeep: We have among us Mrs. Kalpana Vogeti, who is a mother of two beautiful kids, a boy and a girl. She has been married since August 2009. Right now she lives in Brussels, Belgium along with her family.
I know Kalpana only through WordPress community when I was searching for good articles and writers… It was in the month of May 2016 I stumbled upon her blog and approached her. She agreed right away to be part of Candles Online. Her first article, “Reinventing – Makeover of Inner self” itself revealed her beautiful heart when it was published on 1st June 2016. She is a great buddy. She is a homemaker and a very amicable personality. Initially, I thought she is a happy going and a lady without any struggles in life. But I was wrong when she revealed her struggles later. It’s my delight that I could finally interview her to let the world know about her struggles and how she keeps herself cool. It’s my privilege that she is the first author of Candles Online who will share her heart with the world.
So Kalpana, hello and welcome to ‘Face to Face with Chiradeep’… Are you ready for the interview?
Kalpana: Oh, sure… I am ready!
Chiradeep: Tell us, how old are you now?
Kalpana: I am 32 now.
Chiradeep: What profession are you into?
Kalpana: I am into a profession that requires lot of patience and endurance, I am a housewife.
Chiradeep: Wonderful! But what was the reason you chose this profession?
Kalpana: Well, it seems that this profession chose me. I know that’s a bad one. After marriage when I moved to Belgium, I was not legally allowed to work here and language being a big barrier I had no other choice. French still holds many secrets from me. And then family happened which is much more demanding than a 9 – 5 job. I had to stay back for the sake of my family, my kids.
Chiradeep: Hmm… I can see that you don’t like it to be at home all the time… Do you hate this fact that you had to stay back at home as a homemaker instead of going out and work?
Kalpana: Yes, a lot but eruption of emergency situations at kids’ school, sudden ill health, non-availability of bus etc., that require me to rush at the blink of an eyelid… That reassures me that there’s a reason behind everything.
Chiradeep: You are right. Everything happens for a purpose. We just have to accept what God has kept for us. What would you say if I ask, what’s your purpose in life?
Kalpana: That’s a tough question. I have few short term though they are taking too long time but yeah, goals like attaining the working woman tag for myself, being financially independent, if possible being recognised for my petty articles. I know that’s asking for too much. But I have two very specific purposes in life essentially – be a good mother to my kids, make them a better human and independent; do something good, give something to the society however small it may be. I want to be remembered in good books after I breathe my last.
Chiradeep: That’s incredible though your short term goals are still to be fulfilled yet I believe you will definitely attain then sooner or later.
You have been married since August 2009… Almost nine years… Was it a love marriage or arranged marriage?
Kalpana: Mine is an arranged marriage.
Chiradeep: Wow! Mine is an arranged marriage too. You have two beautiful kids… Tell me about them briefly.
Kalpana: My son Siddharth, is six and a half years old and daughter is 2 and a half years old. My son is specially-abled who thinks differently from this world, he is autistic. My daughter, Nandini, is like Abhimanyu (mythological character) who from womb heard that she has to take care of her brother. She is so young yet so understanding especially when it is about her brother. But don’t be under impression that I don’t have to face tantrums. When both of them are together the house is on fire.
Chiradeep: And that was the struggle you have among all which was hidden behind that smile of yours. I can’t really imagine how it is to have an autistic kid in the family. Help me to understand… How do you manage as a mother of an autistic child?
Kalpana: How I wish Autism come with a manual so that I can check that every time there’s a meltdown. Meltdowns are the toughest to manage. With non-verbal autism I guess it’s a notch higher because I don’t have a clue WHY? He would suddenly out of nowhere start crying, screaming, fretting, behave violently leaving me wondering why and how to pacify him. Sometimes he would grab my finger and would show at what he wants or utters petty words like biscuit, pizza, pasta, ice cream etc. That’s pretty easy. But then there are times when he is simply out of control and behave violently. At that time I exert pressure on him physically. I embrace him or have to pin him down and wait till he is back to normal. He is being a big guy (taller and heavier for his age) it requires me to put lot of energy. I don’t believe in exerting pressure via practices like spanking or caning in such situations as that’s something unintentional and doing so would have deep impact on his confidence towards me and otherwise. It’s not that I have never raised my hand on him but that’s when he is creating some mess and I have to be really, really, really pissed off and my treatment for both kids is same in such matters. But I can proudly say, you can give a better score when it comes to patience as I don’t get angry with him often.
Chiradeep: I understand what you mean and I can definitely feel that you are very patient in dealing with Siddharth. Please continue…
Kalpana: Yeahh…, as a mother to an autistic kid I have a fraction of fear always resting in my mind that he should not harm himself or others around him. And the saddest thing according to me as an addition to all the fiasco is that my son doesn’t sense danger. I am always on toes and have an eye on him when at home.
Chiradeep: Oh my!
Kalpana: I would like to add that Siddharth is a calm child showing signs of improvement when it comes to his day to day activities as well as one to one interactions. He never hurt anyone around him. He is mostly into himself. Even during his meltdowns he never reaches out with the intention of hurting anyone, it’s only when someone is in his vicinity and he is flapping his hands and kicking his legs they would get hurt. Being a mother I have to deal with it only to help him recuperate. I believe in loving him unconditionally because this is something he didn’t chose – Autism.
As he is growing up I know it would be more difficult for me to manage his meltdowns physically. I am already in talks with social services specialising in behavioural therapy for such kids. They would help him to develop interests other than surfing YouTube on tablet or bing on ice cream which we successfully limit it to one per week, enhancing concentration so that he is able to continue with his works without taking an exit in the middle… for the moment he can concentrate only for 5-10 minutes… and lastly, shaping his social integration.
I have a daunting and demanding task ahead. My only wish is to see him independent in every aspect in future so that after his parents are gone he can lead his life on his terms and successfully.
Chiradeep: How does Siddharth manage himself being an autistic child?
Kalpana: It seems he is slowly understanding his surroundings and people around him. He now seems to understand our frustrations on seeing him restless, that really melts me. He is now developing new interests like cooking and swimming. I am sure given a right direction he will find his feet.
Chiradeep: How about your daughter and her role in your family?
Kalpana: She is his ardent supporter and follower, loves him immensely. I would like to make a special mention about my daughter, Nandini here. She is always behind me trying to calm down, entertain, and reach out to her brother. Hopefully she stands by his side in every situation that life throws at him like a rock.
Chiradeep: That’s so good to hear about Nandini. How adorable that kid is… WOW! How supportive is your husband with all that you have around?
Kalpana: What bigger support I can ask for than him to believe me when I said “look we have a problem at hand, we have to handle”. He is always there pumping up my morale, he believes everything is perfectly normal and if it’s not so there could be a reason supporting that. For example when I feel low because of my unemployed status he says it’s good that you are not working, we are saving on tax (that’s pun intentional). He is really supportive, working and thinking 24*7about us, only us.
Chiradeep: What is the best thing you would like to tell about your hubby?
Kalpana: He is not someone who believes in speaking or shouting loud about his concern for his family but believes in actions. In these nine years I never had to think even once about a pending bill (never came to my notice) never heard a cross word when it comes about spending on various miscellaneous items like activities for Siddharth during vacations, funding my further education (we are planning to) no matter how expensive it might be. He places us everything before we could even think of asking them.
Chiradeep: You are blessed to have such a man as your husband and how he tried to fulfill all that his own family needs.
Kalpana! Tell me, what breaks you down at times and how do you manage it?
Kalpana: There are many factors that tend to break me from time to time, for instance my financial dependence, rejections from the recruiters. But I try to draw inspiration from lives of greats who never let failures or hardships break them, some prayer and deep introspection helps me to rejuvenate.
Chiradeep: So when you suffer discouragements, negative feelings affecting your mental states or you feel stressed out then what you do you do to bust your stress and negativities?
Kalpana: Sleeping makes me feel lighter and fresh… I sleep over everything and feel fresh after a good, long sleep.
Chiradeep: That’s a natural stress buster gifted to us by the Creator. Fantastic!
What are your weakness and strength? Briefly discuss about each if you are comfortable to share with us.
Kalpana: I guess trusting others easily is my biggest weakness. I am emotional to the core and that’s why I fail to look beyond emotions. That did cost me dearly many times.
My strengths! Hmm… I believe is my ability to accommodate in any situation. I am an easy going person who can squeeze through any situation. I am not rigid, that really helps when life is up for twists and turns.
Chiradeep: That’s a great way of looking at your strengths. So you are like water and can accommodate in any container and take the shape of the container. Lovely!
Kalpana, one thing really amazes me… and that’s your smile. You smile all the time though I haven’t met you in person but I have a feeling that you are never grumpy…
So my next question would be what is the secret behind your smile?
Kalpana: My selfies say I look good with that smile rather than a pout, sorry won’t boast and self proclaim. I believe in smiling from within.
Chiradeep: Hahaha! Lovely and witty…!!!
Before we end here, what would you like to tell your readers today to inspire them?
Kalpana: Success hasn’t adorned me yet so I can’t really inspire anyone but I would like to share an important message to everyone who are aspiring to reach great heights or who is already well settled there – Stay grounded, never ever forget your roots, success shall speak for you and it shouldn’t be the other way round. The only accessory to go well with knowledge and success is humility, be humble always.
Chiradeep: This is such a fantastic interview and I loved the way you answered all the questions Kalpana. God bless you and may He bless your amazing family especially the one who has been so specially abled – Siddharth.
Dear Readers! Mind it, Autism is a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts. So Kalpana, being a mother of an autistic boy is doing a commendable job and she very well explained how difficult it is to manage the boy when he is growing bigger and stronger than her. She is such a valiant lady who taught us to be smiling all the time in every situation.
Minus 4°c outside and a boy walks with an ice cream in his hand. He finishes one and tries to pull out the second one from the pack of four; A boy leaves hand of his mother and crosses the road without looking at the traffic just to reach the shop on the other side of the road to purchase an ice cream scaring his mother to death. Everyone else around is watching that boy with a look which says “OMG! Ice cream in this chilling weather”, ” what kind of mother she is who is letting him eat ice cream”, ” So unhealthy!”, “how careless she is to let him go”. And when you catch them staring at you either they pass sheepish smile or roll their eyes to other side. What a mother goes through when her credential as a mother is being put under scanner? Who’s fault is it precisely when the boy in question is “Autistic”?
Having a child and seeing him grow up, playing around and playing with us, posing questions (making us laugh and wonder) at every step and action, discovering things, catching up the pace with the world and have an own little world of ours – this was our dream of a happy life which was rocked completely when doctors diagnosed our son with Autism at the age of three and a half years. To accept the fact that your beloved is having a “Problem” doesn’t go down well for obvious reasons. The first question that stuck my mind when tears were rolling down and dampening my face was “God why me? I never wanted anything bad happen to anyone then why me?”
If finding a place to fit him in a curriculum was a struggle then streamlining day-to-day activities and habits for him is even a bigger challenge. Handling unexpected tantrums at places where you least wish it to happen with dozens of pair of eyes piercing through makes heart sink. Please Getting cranky, lying down on road, shouting and crying (this list is too small) – these are the things I handle on daily basis in and out of the house. At some point during this struggle I simply give up and answer the complaining tongues and questioning glares with a sorry and an explanation “Il est autiste” (He is Autistic). This mellows down their tone, softens their behaviour and they end up saying “bonne courage” (be brave).
What was I trying to do? Was I expecting them to understand or trying to garner their sympathy or asking them not to be judgemental about me or my son? May be everything.
When it comes to me, I must confess that many a times I end up losing my confidence and patience and just flare up at my son, cursing my fate and reprimanding him for not behaving the way I want.
Is it my son’s fault being an autistic or the fault lies in us who can’t accept deflection? We all have defects in us but when such defects become obvious to everyone we call it disability. Disability to cope up with changes, disability to adapt, disability to express and you name it we have it.
Yes my son is “handicapped” because of his disability to interact and express “Verbally”. He has behavioural disorder because he exhibits tantrums. But I believe he is a better person in making because of serenity and innocence his soul has. His love is unconditional as compared to mine ( even being a mother doesn’t deters me from expecting him to be at par with other kids of his age, which is impossible but can’t help it. This is my frustration that is speaking). It seems he understands that I am not happy with him but it never holds him back from running towards me to embrace me in happiness and fear.
Quite independent in many things he do, great memory power, exceptional grasping especially with music, his teachers praising him for being a good student in the class – he reminds me that he needs acceptance more than sympathy, he needs words of encouragement and a little help to pull off. When I am mad at him his teary eyes say “Mom I am equally frustrated because I am unable to explain what I want. I need your help, catch those signals. Being Autistic is not my choice“
For every person who is “able” by the standards set by “whosoever” it is important to understand that it is easy to be judgemental about a person whom you call disabled and give expert opinion about how to cope with it than to live with it and more importantly to have it. No disability is greater than being unable to accept.