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Serendipity: How we used the written word to teach a girl with Autism to understand Language

Picture of a page from Serendipity's Scrapbook
Written Words : Unlock the ability to understand the spoken word

I call her Serendipity, the girl I want to talk to you about. I met her quite by accident and it was almost an accidental observation we made regarding her strengths that resulted in a major breakthrough in her skills. I first heard of Serendipity from her maternal uncle who is a good friend. Over dinner one balmy evening, we discussed about my work in early intervention. I think you should meet my niece he said, something is not quite right about her development. The very next week; Serendipity all of two years and two months, was at my centre along with Mum, grandmother and uncle. She had no speech, didn’t seem to understand what was being said to her; wouldn’t respond even to her name, had no eye contact and couldn’t sit in one place for more than 20 seconds. She is a picky eater said Mum. She takes ages to eat and it is an ordeal getting her to eat anything. Besides the feeding challenges, what bothered Mum the most was the total absence of any speech.She doesn’t even say Mama, said Mum sadly. 

Having concluded preliminary assessments it was clear that Serendipity would require interventions and for a prolonged period of time at that. My notes for the day tell me that in addition to her inability to sit still, her eye contact was almost nil, there was no response to name call, she would cry to communicate. In fact, her eye contact was one of the hardest to develop, more on that later. At the time, they lived in a city where there were no services for Autism. The family moved bag and baggage to Mumbai, work did not permit father to move with them.What followed is two and a half years of intensive interventions; family’s sheer grit and determination to overcome all odds. For the entire duration they were with us, they did not unpack their television.Mother ensured that she diligently followed all that we trained her in and more.

The early days were about settling Serendipity down, developing skills required to enhance her learning, overcoming her feeding challenges with specific exercises for the same.Six months post intervention, a lot