In this session of Common Ground: Understanding Neurodiverse Perspectives, we spoke to former TV journalist and neurodiversity activist, Mugdha Kalra, about how one can be a better caregiver and ally to members of the neurodiversity spectrum.
Mugdha has more than 20 years of experience in broadcast journalism and is the Chief Content Officer at Bakstage–an interactive, audio social networking platform.
While Mugdha has several feathers in her cap, she is also an Autism activist, a corporate trainer and a mindfulness coach. She runs a platform called ‘Not The Different’, in association with Bookosmia–a leading creative platform for children in India. Not That Different is India’s first children-led movement to normalise conversations around neurodiversity and push for inclusion.
Watch the conversation between Shreya Jain, head of BYJU’S UNO and Mugdha Kalra as they discuss their perspectives, Mugdha’s challenges as a caregiver, ‘Autism breaks’ and more.
‘My story is very similar to perhaps the story of several others who are raising a child on the spectrum. I used to be a news journalist in a newsroom, and for 13 years I did the breakfast news show for several channels. And it was after 2013 that my son’s diagnosis came around, when he was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum. And surprisingly, I had never heard of autism,’ shared Mugdha.
When the diagnosis came, Mugdha didn’t know what it meant to raise a child with autism. Moreover, at that point in time, ASD felt more like a disability, and she just needed to accept it.
That’s when Mugdha, like most women, started blaming herself for her choices. She said, ‘I went through phases of denial, lack of acceptance and lack of awareness, among others. That’s when I took a sabbatical and moved to Bangalore, where I could explore autism, understand my child and come to terms with how life had changed and how it was completely capable of being extremely beautiful.’
She soon reached out to more mothers like her before teaching the world about autism and making people more aware about neurodiversity. Being a former journalist, words were Mugdha’s greatest power, which she put to use when she started her blog.
‘I was reporting so much that I wanted to sort of put it down somewhere. So, I started to write about it as an exercise where I was ranting, until I completed my first blog. And within two, three days, the blog went viral, which was shocking. There were so many parents who wrote to me saying that these were the exact same experiences they had,’ she said.
From blogs to now video content, Mugdha went to create more awareness about Autism and inspired the formation of several support groups for neurodiverse children. However, she soon realised that there were a lot of parents struggling to introduce their children to the world because they were neurodiverse. They were at a point where they couldn’t accept the difference.
‘If I’m taking him out, I don’t have to explain to the world why he is like this; they should know about this. That’s when the activism really started, telling the world and calling out to the allies,’ Mugdha shared.
Several times, like in many instances, when we obsess over something, we tend to get consumed by the overwhelming amount of information, rather than just consume it. Similarly, according to Mugdha, a parent, too, goes through this ordeal when consuming so much information, which will eventually fog their mind and make them question their choices.
‘There was a time I figured that there were a lot of things that I was consuming, which was in fact not really interlinked. For instance, my son always slept very well. But, when I read about insomnia and autism, I kept worrying myself. If he slept about 15 minutes too late, my mind would convince me it was insomnia. So, that’s why a break from this is much needed for a parent,’ says Mugdha.
During a doctor’s appointment, the doctor gave Mugdha a really simple piece of advice–be his mother, not his therapist. That’s when they took a nine-month long break from Autism, and decided to raise her son in a normal manner, without overthinking and worrying herself.
‘There are neurodiverse people that you might meet at several places, each with a different degree of neurodiversity. And some of them, you see will be masking, which means that they don’t know that they are neurodiverse. Despite the slow, increasing awareness, we still have zero representation in our cinema, anywhere at the moment, primarily because we don’t understand neurodiversity,’ shared Mugdha.
She added, ‘While we do see an increase in representation of the LGBTQ community, neurodiversity is a bit more complicated for people to comprehend, because the spectrum is huge with verbal, semi-verbal and non-verbal sub-types.’
Mugdha explained that while the representation in films and media is low, the real need is to understand it from the point of view of being good allies to the community, and being a person who can support a family, a colleague or a friend in their journey of finding themselves and living in the world.
Mugdha’s platform, titled ‘Not That Different’, is a comic strip that she initiated in partnership with Bookosmia, a creative platform led by children. It aims to encourage children to accept and appreciate neurodiversity, chronicling the story of Sara, a 12-year-old, who befriends Madhav, a child with Autism.
‘When my co-founders (both with neurotypical children) and I shared stories of our children, they realised that their kids, too, had many similar behaviours and weren’t that different. Hence, the title.’
She further explains that many kids, especially younger ones, do not have a great understanding of neurodiversity. So, the book helps them understand their neurodiverse peers better and also, ultimately, build character.
Watch the video to learn more about Mugha’s book. Also, don’t miss Mugdha’s responses to the rapid fire round in which she explains her child’s differences in various situations.
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Also Read: Celebrating Differences!
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