Together we can

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There is a unique initiative in Mumbai called ‘together life skills centre’, which is training youngsters with autism to prepare for adulthood and independent living. Documenting the venture and the lives of her quadruplets, two of whom are experiencing autism, is co-founder Sangeetha Chakrapani.

We are quadruplets. We are four twins, born within one mother. We all like to run around when we go down to play except Lakshmi who likes to sit. For Jayanthi, the tab is her life. We often fight for things to eat and play with. We all love to play with electronics. We like to write. One of us has met Aishwariya Rai. Our friend Jordan has met Naseeruddin Shah. Lakshmi loves to eat. She likes to listen to ‘kaja’ her code word for songs. She loves to hold Dad’s hand when she comes out.

Baking cookies, making memories

Baking cookies, making memories

We all do crazy things. We like to rag each other. When we go out on vacation, my mother goes on taking photos. It is very irritating to hold Lakshmi and Jayanthi together and make them pose, as if it is an animation movie.

Krishna can never help in finding something so Appa has made a little poem for him – “What anybody can find, why should I find. What nobody can find, why should I find?”

Jayashree has invented her own version of the English language. She says things like ‘My teacher has taughten me’. She asked Ganapati for his phone number before visarjan.

Jayanthi throws things from the terrace when she is bored; things like the TV remote, Appa’s Blackberry, katoris, spoons. Now Appa is planning to put a mesh on all the windows.

Lakshmi removes the regulators from the fan switch and plays with them. Now Appa has got them permanently fixed so we can’t adjust the speed of the fan.

Who we are!

Who we are!

Thus begins the story of the quadruplets – Krishna (boy), Jayashree, Jayanthi and Lakshmi – who are closely bonded, and are today at the centre of a unique initiative, ‘together’, founded by their parents Sangeetha and V. Chakrapani. Jayanthi and Lakshmi are experiencing autism while Krishna and Jayashree are regular children. Instead of worrying herself sick about the future of her two children with autism, Sangeetha first embarked on a ‘cookie making journey’ with her kids, with help from professionals. Soon after came the social inclusion programme at Arya Vidya Mandir school, which opened its arms wide and invited them to speak on issues related to disability and inclusion.

Sangeetha, who aims to create an inclusive world for special needs people and is committed to creating facilities for people with special needs to work and live meaningfully in a safe and secure environment, co-founded the ‘together life skills centre’. It was founded with a team of parents, professionals and special educators and was born out of the need to help young people in the autistic spectrum to prepare for independent living beyond the lifetime of their parents. The centre has also tied up with the state-of-the-art bakery at the corporate headquarters of Puratos India Ltd., where the students bake regularly. They draw, paint, make diyas and rangoli, and the cookies they bake are packaged well and sold.

Sangeetha also stands out in her unique ability to document her kids’ daily struggles and joys, with a lot of humour, on facebook. Below is a selection of her heartwarming posts, in her own words and sometimes in her kids’ words, from their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/togethersee

What is autism?
Krishna – “Autism is a neurological problem but it can be solved in many ways. But that does not mean we give them too much of ease, they can do lot of things. My sisters, Lakshmi and Jayanthi are diagnosed with autism but autistic children are very innocent.”

When Jayashree brought the quadruplets ‘home’ with elan, at a school sports meet!

When Jayashree brought the quadruplets ‘home’ with elan, at a school sports meet!

Dec.6, 2014
Sports Day at school. As usual the Chakrapani family excitedly discussed which snacks would taste better on the field, whether muffins are better than sliced cake, Lays v/s Bingo chips, “no, that’s not enough, let’s take chocopies also”, while the head of the family sarcastically reminded us to clap hard for those who actually run, jump etc., and I defended my children by quoting the Bible – “They also serve who only stand and wait”. Jayashree brought her siblings home ‘together’ in style with four gold medals and one silver medal!

Dec.7, 2014
At 60 smiles an hour, the only sound to be heard was the gnashing of my teeth as I egged her on (David Ogilvy anyone?). Jayanthi made an entire tray of choco chip raisin chewy cookies all by herself for the first time today – the world’s most nonviolent cookies, each cookie took approximately seven and a half minutes to cut, accompanied by melodious humming, chanting of Sai (the only word in her vocabulary).

Dec.9, 2014
‘Cinnamon by Tomato’ – these buttery vanilla and cinnamon flavoured cookies are made with whole wheat. Lakshmi and her siblings had to wait two months to be named formally as we had to camp in Bombay Hospital that long to be sent home. Tired of waiting for us to name our babies, the sisters in the N.I.C.U. named her ‘Tomato’ for her beautiful glowing skin. Even today, you enter our home and shout ‘Tomato’ and you will find her by your side. `160 a dozen for ‘Cinnamon by Tomato’.

Travelling with the four is always eventful, says Sangeetha, their mother

Travelling with the four is always eventful, says Sangeetha, their mother

Dec.23, 2014
The kids, CP and me (or is I more grammatical?) were at dinner today. I was at the food counter when a young man walked up and asked me, “Excuse me, are those your children?”I said ‘Yes, all of them’ to forestall the next question. He took me by surprise and asked me, “Are any of them special needs kids?” I said “Yes, two of them”. “Then, if you don’t mind, may I buy some goodies for them? My sister is special needs too”. I smiled and replied, “Sure, but I would like you to buy goodies from them rather than for them”. I puffed up with pride (not sure if that is physically possible given my girth) at the amazement on the young man’s face. Not to be outdone, he said ‘My sister is also earning. She earns `1000 a month for beading work’. We exchanged numbers and bolstered by the strength we had drawn from each other, went our own ways.

I hope to remain strong in the years to come, I hope that as parents and supporting members of society, we encourage special needs people to strive for excellence and quality in the work they do so that together we reach at least halfway up the mountain. Let us never, ever give up.

Oct.25, 2015
We all need a reason to be tired during cookie baking!
Lakshmi is tired after eating a samosa.
Divya is tired because she was late for the session.
Umang is tired of talking and singing simultaneously while we get him to listen to us.
Vikrant is tired because Satyam for whom he is a co-worker is not present.
Saatvik is tired of teasing Sabya, his sister and co-worker.
Sabya is tired of being civil to Saatvik.
Jayashree is tired of being praised for her hard work.
Krishna is tired of being hauled up by everyone for increasing the noise level in the session single-handedly.
Jayanthi is tired of chasing us for sympathy for a mosquito bite.

Dec.24, 2015
We are a very boring family. We don’t give exciting parties. Gaggles of friends come home and poor things, get converted into volunteers. Some get the kids to sit around Sai Baba and sing bhajans. Some who want to eat have to make their way to the kitchen to help rustle up something. The really unfortunate ones are those who get pulled into a project that has to be submitted in school tomorrow. All of them in any case have to play ball with Jayanthi.

Those who are not friends – people who come to deliver stuff for ‘together’ etc., are not spared too. Three days ago, a person was nice enough to deliver the X’mas gifts we had ordered for ‘together’ and I was out at that time. When I walked in, I was appalled to see him being bullied by Jayanthi into playing ball. Krishna and Jayashree were noisily arguing over the tab and Lakshmi had taken advantage of the situation and was busy gobbling cheese slices. He asked me ‘so many children?’ in a politely horrified manner. I was reminded of the Aquaguard service guy who asked me if I was running a daycare centre. Since then, I make it a point to hastily introduce the children at entry point itself.
Merry X’mas everyone!

February 2016
Children are like animals and accept each others’ disabilities and all, instinctively. Jayashree the other day was trying to sing a song while Jayanthi standing by her, shrieked with happiness about something. Impatiently, Jayashree caught her by the shoulders and said, ‘Jayanthi, just shut up for some time’. I immediately intervened ‘Jayashree don’t say that, particularly since Jayanthi does not talk’. Jayashree replied ‘Who says she cannot talk. She talks but in a different language. She is saying something all the time…how can you ever say that she cannot talk?…so if she irritates me, I will say shut up just like I would with Krishna’.

A mother speaks
I wanted my children to be perfect. When I was diagnosed with quadruplets, my mother swayed with shock and the sonologist rushed to help her sit down, but my heart sang with joy. When the doctors advised options, I was steadfast. When I was told that I am too short at slightly less than 5 feet to be able to bear four children simultaneously, I refused to play ‘inky pinky ponky’ between my children and challenged everyone who stood in my way that I will do it and my babies would be fine. When I was wheeled into the operation theatre on D day, one of the doctors asked me ‘Mrs.Chakrapani this is the first time this hospital is seeing a quadruplet delivery. For learning purposes, will you allow us to film the process? He had to lean to hear my feeble voice ‘Doctor, you can even bring the watchmen in, please just give me my children safely’. After regaining consciousness in the recovery room, I was told ‘three girls and a boy. How are you going to manage?’, one of the nursing aides asked. I remember each word of what I said – ‘My children will be a gift to this world. Each of them will give something back that will make this world a better place. I will bring them up in that manner’. I could not take it at all when Krishna, followed by Jayanthi and then Lakshmi presented serious challenges. My world collapsed, but slowly my words began to come true. My children indeed showed me that challenges don’t stop people from living life, disability can be overcome and joyful co-existence is possible. Today, when I see Jayanthi and Jayashree in different school uniforms, my heart does not ache with sadness anymore, but races ahead with possibilities and opportunities.

February 2016
The together team grandly announces the launch of BOOTIFUL BUTTER cookies-shortbread cookies dunked in butter and sprinkled lavishly with chocolate chips.

We also dedicate today’s session to the many moods of Satyam – first at his hardworking best. Just when we began to look at him admiringly, he decided to dump a bowlful of milk into the cookie dough and was promptly banished. After a heartfelt apology he was re-inducted and proceeded to make giant cookies, forcing us to convert a box of 12 into a box of 6. Generous Satyam…he even sacrificed his sample cookie for another student. A unique chef in the making!

June 2016
Together Life Skills Centre for people in need of special care has opened. Designed by a parent along with special educators, we offer an intensive ‘Transition to Adulthood’ programme which comprises:

  • Planning and participating in meal preparation
  • Routine chores both self and around the home
  • Meaningful use of leisure time
  • Vocational training
  • Together was born out of the need to help young people in the autistic spectrum and other intellectual impairments to prepare for independent living beyond the lifetime of their parents. We seek to walk in their shoes and foresee the kind of hurdles they are likely to face in terms of living their lives. The programme is conducted in a specially created, informal living environment, conducive for learning.

    Location: 12, 13 & 14, Poonam Kirti CHS, Poonam Nagar, Andheri East, Mumbai-400093

    Call : 9930358173/022-28398173

    Email at: togethersee@gmail.com

    Our blog-www.togethersee.org

    www.facebook.com/togethersee


    sangeetha-chakrapani

    Sangeetha Chakrapani

    Sangeetha Chakrapani has derived great inspiration from her four children for founding ‘together’, which aims to create an inclusive world for special needs people. She regularly blogs at www.togethersee.org. You can also visit her facebook page: www.facebook.com/togethersee for more news about ‘together’.

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