What My Students Taught Me About Beauty

Jasvinder and her teenaged son Paawan, reside in Amrit Nagar near Chunabhatti

Amrit Nagar is a colony for Sikhs.

Jasvinder described how children from the colony approach Paawan and ask him to join them for a game of badminton or to go for a walk.

I was deeply touched, as this wasn’t how it always was.

Initially would not approach him. They didn’t understand autism and they considered his behaviors weird.

In fact, they cringed when they saw Paawan.

I have been part of Jasvinder’s and Paawan’s journey since 10 years.

I know Paawan from the time when specialists had given up on him and said he would never speak.

Not only does he speak words, he communicates via sign language and with the AVAZ app. He gets his point across effectively.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing. Paawan went through a period of trauma and stress a few months ago. At that time, he would find it difficult to regulate himself.

At present, he has achieved a high level of independence. He can make himself a cup of tea and fix some snacks. Going to a mall with his mother and getting a quick meal, is a favorite getaway for him.

“So does Paawan join his friends at the colony?” I asked Jassi, curiously.

“I ask them to check with Paawan directly.” She replied.

“Most times, he shakes his head to decline. That’s fine, just as long as he makes his own decisions.”

I have seen this with many of my students.

At high levels of stress, they are not able to function well.

But once they’re calm and regulated, you see a different, beautiful side of them.

I was reminded of this powerful quote:

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

I thought of Mohit and my other students. They all displayed this quality of self assuredness and beauty in various ways.

Take a look from my perspective.

1. This is who I am. Take me or leave me

We entertain occasionally at home.

Friends drop in for dinner and drinks.

We’re a loud, motley group of folks! Mostly middle aged, though young at heart!

Mohit joins us sometimes.

He makes himself comfortable amongst our friends, greets them, enjoys the starters and leaves when he’s ready.

At other times, he sits in the adjoining tv room which is less crowded and listens to his favorite music.

He doesn’t take our permission to stay or leave. He knows what he wants.

He walks away when he’s ready to do so.

On the painting front, this quality shines through too.

At a recent exhibition, another artist commented on how different his art work was.

I informed him that Mohit was autistic.

“Oh, no wonder!” He commented. “His fearlessness shows in his strokes.”

He is calm and comfortable in his own skin- an admirable quality.

“One of the greatest tragedies in life is to lose your own sense of self and accept the version of you that is expected by everyone else.”

― K.L. Toth

2. Honesty is their policy

I have the good fortune of having some autistic buddies.

A dear friend Akash once commented that he saw my new whats app display picture.

“Oh!” I beamed. “Did you like it?”

“No.” He answered simply. “It’s not like how you normally are.”

“Oops, Kamini. You asked for that one, didn’t you?” I thought to myself.

You know what? I feel totally blessed with this honesty. Where else in the world would I get such an honest response coupled with purity and good intention?

One of my students, Aahan failed in an open book test.

His mother was surprised about how he could fail in an open book test.

His response when she asked him?

“How could I cheat on a test?”

3. They are clear about what they want

Rishi is a foodie. He’s non vocal. He communicates via gestures and typing.

I asked his parents how he communicates his food choices.

“Oh that’s easy,” said his dad, Amitabh.

He saves these inserts from newspapers and brings out the precise one at the right time.

He lets us know the cuisine he wishes to enjoy. He shows us what exactly he wants. He even chooses his preferred restaurant.

And oh! You can’t trick Rishi. He knows how to break computer and ipad passwords. We don’t even try to pull a fast one on him.

4. They are totally immersed in the now

I watch in awe as Vishal cooks.

He stirs and stirs with full concentration and love.

He stops only when he thinks he’s done.

Sometimes, he chooses ingredients that take his mother, Viji, by surprise.

But then she’s learned to go with his thought process.

After all, he’s the master chef who comes up with delicacies.

I get to a meditative state as I watch. He’s absolutely present in the ‘now.’

It’s a magical, magnetic quality.

5. They think in a unique fashion

Aahan (mentioned above) is an 18 year old, autistic young man who studies at Symbiosis college, Pune.

He went to pick up some food from a street side stall one day.

Two beggar girls came up to him to ask for some money.

He refused to give them money. Instead he asked them what they would like to eat.

They hesitated- he gave them a choice, “Vada pav or icecream.”

They looked at each other but didn’t answer.

He made the decision for them and took them to the icecream shop across the street and bought them an icecream stick each.

His mother was a little surprised. She asked his brother, Arav what he would do in a similar situation.

Arav replied he would have definitely bought the vada pav- since it was conveniently located and it would be cheaper than icecream!

Aahan heard his brother out and commented, “When will they get a chance to eat icecream?”

That said it all.

Over the years, I’ve learned to appreciate this diverse, out of the box thinking.

See with the eyes of love and you’ll see what I see.

They are comfortable in their skins. They are who they are.

We need to be ourselves too.

Perhaps this is what Thich Nhat Hanh meant when he said,

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”

Are you ready to be your beautiful self?

Learn to understand your autistic child. And in the bargain, get to know yourself better.

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