Imagine you see a huge brown patch on a bright white wall. To some of us, that’s a stain, to some of us, it’s art. Ultimately, it’s a matter of how we perceive something, how our body responds to it and understanding that both those analogies are not wrong.
That’s neurodiversity, which typically describes how each individual has a different way they experience and interact with the world, and nothing is defined simply as the “right way” of thinking.
But this word is often used in the context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as other neurological or developmental conditions such as ADHD or learning difficulties.
Akhil Lad, a 20-year-old based in New Jersey and a student of BYJU’S Future School, has been dealing with autism since his early years. From struggling with communication and relationships in his adolescence to pursuing an Associate Science Degree at Rowan College South Jersey, Akhil has come a long way. He is also the reason and inspiration behind the Akhil Autism Foundation, which was founded by his parents.
In a conversation with BYJU’S Education for All, Akhil shares his experience of an autistic lifestyle, and how the neurotypical society can be more inclusive and receptive to the differences.
What are some activities you love to do?
I like listening to music, and there’s one type of music that my mind wants me to play again and again on YouTube. While I go in the car for a ride, I connect that form of music to my mind. I like to analyse the composition and also, the meaning of the sound. I also like spending time with my family and playing with my siblings.
Tell us about your experience being accepted into college?
The college experience is important for everyone, and I, too, was interested in the same. However, being minimally verbal, I always thought I would not attend college. I was unsure whether the college would accept me, but I am incredibly happy that my college is good, and that they accepted my form of communication. I handed the transcript to the college, and the teachers showed a number of courses that I could take up – maths, geometry, science, and college courses like Algebra and English composition.
Growing up, what were some of the challenges that you faced being autistic?
My body not cooperating with my mind is the biggest challenge. For the mind to understand, I have to show it many concepts and then analyse them in the mind.
In order to tell the body what to do, my mind will make a plan and the body has to follow – however, I process many concepts in the form of symbols and pictures. The body has to think like the mind.
Do you face any challenges in communication with a new person or in social situations?
The mind and body have to be in sync for effective communication. To express myself in a manner that another person would understand sometimes does not come naturally. Social situations are very difficult as it requires too many analyses – what’s happening in the mind, what’s happening in the environment.
What methods usually help overcome some of these challenges?
For good communication, I need options or choices of pictures and words – I like to think in pictures and that can make my mind understand easily. Too much noise is a sensory overload for me, and I need to slow my mind down by covering myself in a blanket or going to the corner of a quiet place. Also, I drink a lot of water and that helps my mind and body.
Do you think it is okay for people to ask you questions about autism?
Yes, we can show you our thoughts and now you can understand us much better than doing the analysis in your mind. It is easy for people to misunderstand us and have false perceptions of us. So, when they ask questions, we can help many of these perceptions go away.
How can we create inclusive communities for people with neurodiversity?
For neurodiversity, one has to show many solutions for showing acceptance and understanding the sensory overload. The body will show many behaviours, that one finds annoying. We shouldn’t be judged for these differences in communications and behaviours.
How can neurotypical individuals make neurodiverse people feel comfortable?
On the outside, we will show many behaviours and they will be annoying to the neurotypical individuals. They may not find them not normal and may think we are misbehaving. So, if we have meltdowns, and need a calming environment, we wish to not be judged. We have to be accepted and understood with no assumptions or labels. The neurotypical society should form a relationship with us, by accepting our differences with integrity.
Do you enjoy using the BYJU’S App? What is your favourite thing about it?
Yes, the app is very good and has excellent concepts for programming. We are given step-by-step instructions to learn different coding languages and applications. My favourite thing about the app is the sprites, and connecting the sprites during fun games.
April is celebrated as Autism Awareness Month, and as members of society, it is imperative to foster an environment that is conducive to neurodiversity. We must recognise every person’s differences and provide them with the strength and support that they need to adapt to society.
Anju is a peace-lover, a video-game addict, and a childhood doodler who imagined that the scribbles were words. This storyteller enjoys a good read, some doodling, and learning new languages. One day, she hopes to write her own story someday, and hopefully in the French language, too! She never loses hope of making the world a better place to live in.
Arya C is a 4th grader who talks about her transition from the US to India and how BYJU`S has helped her at that. She also loves how BYJU`S has made learning a lot more fun.
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V Shriya is a class eight student who has been using BYJU’S for a year now. She shares her experiences with using the app and how it has helped her in improving her academic performance.