I was almost diagnosed with autism as a child. This was when I must have been maybe three, attending a Montessori school in California. The teacher called in my parents one day and said, “Krithika is having a few problems. She tends to repeat the same activity over and over, shies away from any form of social contact, and doesn’t respond when we call her name. We think your daughter may be autistic.”
My father nearly lost it then and there, while my mother remained firmly convinced about my normality and conveniently forgot about the entire conversation.
Then federally mandated pre-kindergarten speech screenings came around, and Lo and Behold, Krithika was just fine after all (although some of my classmates still aren’t sure).
The point of this little anecdote is that while false alarms such as mine may cause minor, short-lived distresses to parents, it is far more crushing to hear that your son, aged 10, isn’t doing well in school because his language level is more like that of a 3-year-old. Or that the ‘naughty’ child, who never paid attention in class and is now failing a few of them, actually has an undetected mild hearing loss (which is actually a huge deal for a school-going child, trust me).
And, as all health professionals who deal with children in any shape and form will preach, early intervention is the key. It is far easier to habilitate a 3-year-old child with a hearing loss than it is to do so for a 15-year-old (complete with worried parents needling the therapist with questions like “Will he be able to pass 10th?”)
It’s not the parents’ fault. Nor is it the therapist’s fault. And it definitely isn’t the child’s fault.
A blameless yet heart-breaking situation could easily be avoided if the child with a hearing loss, or a language delay, or beginning stuttering, or problems saying certain sounds, were identified before school reared its ugly head (And these days, that is very early. Pre-playschool program at age 1 and a half, anyone?)
This would be accomplished if schools demanded a pre-admission speech and hearing screening, the way some employers demand pre-employment hearing screenings. Because if Schools Demand, Parents Giveth.
Many children’s lives could be made better, with better educational, social, and vocational opportunities, and this would only be beneficial for India as a nation.