By Sabrina Almeida
Mississauga, April 29 (CINEWS): April is Autism Awareness Month. Can-India News spoke with Yojna Puri, president and founder of Ausum Charity for Autism about her personal journey with her son Avnish who was the inspiration for the organization. The 19-year-old was diagnosed with autism at the age of four. Yojna says, “It was difficult as it was harder to get resources when my son was diagnosed. I made it through and am happy to help anyone that I can who is struggling with it because I struggled too.” Here are excerpts of the interview.
How did you cope with your son being diagnosed with autism?
Accepting that you child has special needs, especially your first born is a challenge.
There is a lot of controversy about what causes autism. I am a positive thinker and looked forward to see how I could help my son get through it. I can’t do anything about that, it is done. Each child is different and has their own talents, so it is largely about exploring and discovering the potential they have.
How did it change your life?
I look at my son as a blessing and I am very proud of him. I see his potential and he works really hard too. He’s learning everyday just as everyone always is. He has helped us get stronger and see the world in a different view. My daughter Eesha is ten and extra sensitive to children with special needs because she has grown up around it. She makes the extra effort to hug them, say hello and get them involved.
What were some of the challenges you faced?
My son only began talking at the age of 5. We taught him sign language which really helped him with speech as we didn’t have the iPads or electrical gadgets that they use today. The challenge turned out to be great because it was so much fun learning sign language.
There were people who judged and criticized us because my son had behavioral issues. They’d say he had no discipline and bad behavioral habits, and that we were not doing anything about it. I took it in one ear and let it out the other because I realized that they did not understand autism. That’s what kept me going.
What advice do you have for parents with autistic kids?
My advice is to educate yourself about what autism is. Take a look at your child as an individual and see what potential they have. Acceptance is a challenge and people have their own pace of accepting. I went through it. The second that I accepted it I was in a better place to help myself and my son.
There are many resources available. Get everything that he or she needs in place to help them through the school system and life.
Also learn from other parents who have gone through the same situation and get a support group. Family support is also important.
When did you discover Avnish’s artistic talent?
We discovered it when he was about 13 years old and in grade 9. His report card mentioned that his artwork was selected to be displayed at the Oakville Humane Society. He was very casual about it but when he brought it home I was blown away. I talked to his art teacher and we began to focus on his art. When he painted, he would be focussed and in a nice calm space… and like a true artist no one was allowed to look at his painting till it was finished. We always respected that. He likes to explore so we got him some lessons to show him some other art forms like sketches. He is also working with acrylic paints. This summer he is looking at spray painting and we are planning to set up an area in the garage for him.
Has art made a difference in his life?
Yes, I definitely think it has. He has done a lot of paintings and in 2014 he came and told me that he wanted to sell his art work. So I gave him a few options as to how he could do it He chose to have a gallery. My husband Anil and I explored how to go about this and held our first ‘Gallery of Inspiration’ in 2014. We displayed his artwork and invited people to come see what autism was all about. It took a life of its own and started growing.
The program invites autistic individuals with artistic talents to showcase their creativity at our gallery. It also provides a forum for the public to learn about autism through the discovery of the hidden capabilities of autistic individuals. His artwork is also at the Central Library in Mississauga.
How did Ausum Charity for Autism come about?
Avnish is the inspiration behind our ‘Ausum Charity for Autism’. It was launched at our second ‘Gallery of Inspiration’ in October 2015 and operates from Mississaufa. I reinvented the spelling of ‘awesome’ to connect it with autism and people are really picking up on it. We are doing our very first fundraiser ‘United for Autism – A Concert for Autism Awareness’ on June 4 and are really excited about it. The concert will be held at the Mod Club on 722 College St in Toronto and features popular bands ‘Jeff Eager’, ‘Big Night Out’ and ‘The SUVs’.
All money goes to our charity which will help low income families with kids who have been diagnosed with autism get IBI (Intense Behavioural Intervention) therapy because there is such a waitlist. We are looking to give $1,000 per child (to families that qualify) to get their IBI therapy started. Details about the event, our charity and the application for aid are available on our website ausumcharity.org.
Meet the artist – Avnish Puri
Avnish Puri is 19 years old. He was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Autism) at age 4.
He discovered art at the age of 13, and has since turned his interest into a passion. He enjoys painting and loves working with bright colors.
His biggest success moments were when the Oakville Humane Society honored his very first picture, “First Friend”, and Geneva Centre selected “Frisco” for the World Autism Day e-card.
“My art makes me feel like I’m concentrating well. I feel happy because I’m using the bright colours to make the painting look amazing, says Avnish. He enjoys the events for autism that he has been attending where he can showcase his artwork.
He also likes traveling and cooking. Many of his paintings have been inspired from past travels and future travels that he is aspiring towards. He is really excited about trying spray painting art this summer.
Avnish wants people to understand that individuals with autism have “many hidden talents” and work really hard at math, music and art.
“It’s critical for people to be aware,” says Jeet Das, Director, Ausum Charity for Autism
“Apart from celebrating autistic people and their hidden world of wonders, United for Autism 2016 aims to provide funding for the critical therapy kids that are diagnosed need.
In a baffling move, the government has opted to restrict funding for critical therapy and services to Autistic children aged five and under. So, what happens to children over five and young adults like Avnish? I believe that it is crucial for people to become aware about what’s going on.
Anil Puri and I have been playing together in various bands for about eight years, but I only met Yojna and the kids two years ago. Since then, I have learned about Avnish, his inspiring art, and what the Puris have done, not only to help him, but also other autistic individuals in their community through their Galleries of Inspiration.
When they told me about their Ausum Charity for Autism and asked if I might join its board of directors, I accepted readily, despite knowing little about the subject. Seeing the art created by these individuals, who are sometimes marginalized and even shunned in society, was an eye-opening and humbling experience. I am grateful to be part of an organization that helps to raise funds for and increase awareness about the lives, challenges and hidden capabilities of these amazing individuals.”