Tag Archives: #autismawarenessmonth

Still from the short film, Bobby.

Bay Area Filmmakers Attempt to Help South Asians Contextualize Autism

Fact: Suicide rates are THREE times higher for people with Autism than the general public

Fact: 40% of Autistic adults experience depression

Fact: Fewer than half of autistic adults are employed, many of whom only do part-time jobs or are doing work for which they are overqualified

I am ashamed to admit that for the longest time I did not know much about these things – not until they became sort of personal. That happened when I became close to a family that has an individual on the spectrum. 

When I first met this young man, I was fortunate enough to have been given some guidance on how to engage by an expert. It was still somewhat difficult for me to try and connect with him because, like with many who are Autistic, there was some social awkwardness in our initial interaction. Over time I realized that patience, genuine empathy, and a willingness to adapt were key to a meaningful relationship. 

I realized that his purity of thought was unsullied by the trappings of what we often mistake for etiquette and expected social behavior – a refreshing outlook and gave me a reason for introspection. 

Those who have suffered because society is not ready to accept them as they are, know that we must change minds and win hearts, one at a time. This young man could have become a statistic like the ones mentioned above. Fortunately, he didn’t. What’s more, he and his family want to share his story – a story of pain and patience, a story of struggle and reconciliation, a story of love, and ultimately of success. This is special for me because I have witnessed some of this journey myself. 

To underscore the narratives of families with individuals on the Autism spectrum during this Autism Awareness Month, I helped curate a short film, Bobby.

Still from the short film, Bobby.
Still from the short film, Bobby.

Bobby is a fictional story based on key real-life events and experiences. The young man in the film, Bobby, is played by actor, Amogh Karwar. His mother’s role is essayed by Bay Area stage and screen actor, Sareeka Malhotra, and the father is played by yours truly. Produced by Prana Pictures, this short film has assembled a diverse cast and was bravely filmed facing the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic by observing strict safety protocols. Leading the efforts of an immensely dedicated team of cast and crew was Amir Jaffer, a prolific filmmaker in the Bay Area. The film is expected to be released later this year.

My personal journey with Bobby and the process of bringing this short film to life has helped me be more appreciative of the abundance of talent that so many on the spectrum have to offer. If we all took the time to understand Autism a little better, we are certain to create the conditions conducive for so many more success stories.

For the STEM-obsessed Indian American community, especially in the Bay Area, I’d like to remind folks that Albert Einstein is believed to have been Autistic…


Puneet is an actor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has performed in several theatre productions as well as in a number of films and series. He is currently excited about bringing forth a film about autism. You can find his work on Amazon Prime, Disney+ Hotstar, and YouTube. You may connect with him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – @thespianpuneet.


 

Siri with her family (Image by Author)

Siri’s Journey With Autism During the Pandemic

This past year has been a series of ups and downs. My daughter Siri, who has Autism and requires routine, has had to adjust to the changing world around her. Every April during Autism Awareness Month, I share my experience as Siri’s mother and our challenges, so that other parents going through something similar can resonate with our stories and see progress.

Before the pandemic arrived, Siri was busy with many activities like functional fitness, boxing, ice-skating, horse riding, and her internship at Goodwill. She is the type of girl who loves to learn new skills and looks for opportunities to keep herself busy.

Siri boxing before the pandemic (Image by Author)

Naturally, when the pandemic began, we were very worried. We knew that if Siri was bored, she would turn to food as an unhealthy crutch.

To our astonishment, on the third or fourth day into the lockdown period, Siri completely stopped eating and only sought a couple of snacks a day. With both her younger brothers back home during the pandemic, Siri started enjoying their presence in the house. She happily watched them do their zoom classes and ate what they cooked and shared with her. Eventually, we started seeing her shirts and pants fall off her shoulder and hips – all her clothes were extremely loose. We checked with her physician and she said that as long as Siri looks happy, healthy, and is sleeping throughout the night, that we should not worry.

Siri with her mother, Swathi. (Image by Author)
Siri with her mother, Swathi. (Image by Author)

She was so independent that we felt like she had already moved out. The girl who would make her presence known by being loud or pacing when bored had suddenly changed. At one point, we were concerned because we wouldn’t see her often. And when we did see her coming out of her room, she would be happy and humming a tune. She even gave spontaneous hugs to me!

Since her anxiety was at a lower level, I began to teach Siri new skills. We began with some stitching using easy, simple, and small steps. I trained her to make masks and we donated 150 to Saddleback Church in Los Angeles. Siri was so happy to cut the fabric, thread in the needle, and stitch in the way I wanted her to. Her beautiful face glowed as she was packed the masks with a handwritten card inserted in each bag. She started showing interest in drawing and painting too. Later on, we introduced Siri to zoom classes where she was able to do some Bollywood dance, artwork, and also music. 

We, along with a few more like-minded families with special needs kids are working on a community in Sonoma County. We want her, and children like her, to live full, healthy lives without needing their parents for support. In pursuit of this, Clearwater Ranch is developing a program for adults like Siri. Siri, along with three more special-needs young women, will be moving into a house on the ranch by the end of this year. 

Since Siri’s ability to understand the language is affected greatly by her Autism, we are teaching her about her move by taking her to the ranch every other week. We do drive-thru tours for potential families interested in joining us. We explain the process by showing the homes and talking about the future plans for the ranch. 

Our plans for Siri do not stop once she transitions to a new place. Fortunately, this beautiful piece of property sits on an 84acres of land where we plan to develop programs to provide skills to the special-needs residents. We plan to teach them weaving, candle and soap making, painting, farming, pottery, while continuing to focus on their fitness and recreation activities too.   

Siri’s future is bright and promising! 

Join us by following her journey via her Social Media:

FB – https://bit.ly/3deYJ59

IG – https://bit.ly/3g9gAvV 

LI – https://bit.ly/3degilK

YouTube – https://bit.ly/3uOjY3z

Siri’s online business: www.DesignsBySiri.com

Siri’s future home: www.CRanch.net


Swathi Chettipally is a devoted mother and an Autism advocate. Find more about her work with Siri on pinterestinstagram, and youtube.


 

Navigating Autism – A Mother Without Help During a Pandemic

As a mother of three beautiful children, Siri, Vamsi, and Kiran, shelter-in-place has been a time to find positivity in the difficult moments. While Vamsi and Kiran are in college, my eldest daughter Siri never left home. 

This past April 2, 2020 was Autism Awareness Day and a few weeks into the ongoing pandemic frenzy. Initially, I couldn’t help but think that this shelter-in-place should come with more help for moms – especially for those that have children with disabilities.

Siri in a dress she made herself.

Siri was diagnosed with Autism when she was 3 years old.

Before shelter-in-place, Siri was involved in several activities: ice-skating, exercising, boxing, fitness dancing, ABA therapy, working at Goodwill, and attending a day program. For the past six months, I have accompanied Siri to all her activities except her day program. Since most of them are fitness-oriented, she was showing considerable improvement in handling her emotions, and so we gradually tapered her medications for anxiety.  

Around the time when shelter-in-place was declared, Siri was at the peak of her fitness regime, and we were approaching zero medications. But, now, since all her outdoor activities are inaccessible, I feared we might have to start her medications again.

To my surprise, there was no necessity to bring her medications back. Furthermore, she got adjusted to the new schedule within a couple of days. She noticed that her brothers were at home and she adapted to the new lifestyle of no outdoor activities.

On the Autism spectrum, my daughter’s main challenge is understanding language; Siri cannot communicate much. For example, if we tell her why she cannot go out, she may not understand or might misunderstand, and her anxiety will increase since she cannot ask clarifying questions. My husband and I have decided to let her learn by herself, letting her observe her environment.

Siri’s jewelry.

Siri keeps herself busy by working on her online jewelry making business, which she started 5 years ago. What she lacks in her ability to communicate, she more than surpasses in her fine motor skills.

Currently, in this period of shelter-in-place, I am teaching Siri to stitch masks for the COVID-19 workers and once the SIP is lifted, I have plans to teach her horse riding, weaving, soap, and candle making. Autism doesn’t have to be a barrier. It requires creative ways of teaching. Siri can learn any new skill if taught the way she understands. Small and simple steps. 

Considering that I regularly make decisions for her and motivate her as well, it often worries me, will she be able to manage without me? Nevertheless, during this shelter-in-place, the silver lining is that Siri is gradually becoming independent and is without her medications. These are the small assurances that remind me that, even without me, Siri will emerge much stronger, confident, and better than what she is today.

My family wants to share our story as a South Asian, immigrant family confronting Autism. It has been a unique and challenging journey.

If you’re interested in helping us fund the documentary, you can donate to our kickstarter campaign.

You can find the amazing work Siri is doing on her website.

Swathi Chettipally is a devoted mother and an Autism advocate. Find more about her work with Siri on pinterest, instagram, and youtube.