I grew up in a large, loving, very intellectually, artistically, [alcoholically] gifted family. I was always tinkering around, singing made-up songs, drawing, and writing and lost in my own world as a kid. So my parents left me out to play with whoever I wanted to so that I grow organically. This freedom led me to constantly make something out of everything.
I used to write and read stories to goldfish, correct my Dad’s then-secretary’s dictation tests, or hang out with stray dogs in our city streets, carelessly returning home in the evenings with bruised knees and tattered curls.
My mother was a school principal by the day and a psychologist by evening. She taught children with special needs, such as autism, down’s syndrome, or other learning needs. Whenever they were done with their classes, I hung out with them like my best buddies, reading, writing, singing, teaching them new songs and dancing and learning back from them, for our perfect choreography. Somehow hanging out with them gave me the gravity and groundedness life doesn’t offer otherwise or takes away from you too soon if you come from pride and privilege.
I went to study at Mayo College Girl’s School, and then to Lady Sriram College, Delhi. Soon after, in 2007, I met a boy with autism, Sahil, who would get violent with loud music. Spending time with him inspired me to take life a little more seriously than I had thus far. So I put in all I had in me to get a partial scholarship to study autism, and intellectual disabilities, at Teacher’s College, Columbia University in New York.
This subject was still hushed or spoken of in mental asylums in India back then.
Teacher’s College, in the heart of Columbia University and New York City, was a jolt I hadn’t known or imagined it would be. It pushed me into becoming wholly myself. To build an unexplored life in the space of giftedness and autism, I worked across countries, continents, and institutions, creating curricula, launching inclusion programs, and using my work and classroom as a laboratory to learn and share. I befriended people from many walks and spheres of life to understand that autism is as closely interlinked to everything as it falls apart.
How I Am Helping Autistic Kids
BrainBristle, my think tank for children on the spectrum of autism embodies this fullness of life. It believes autism is a cry for freedom, for fangs and fins, yet a need to hold and be held.
Autism is like you and me, but because it’s now so widely controversial and known, it gets thoroughly dissected, and it becomes something we constantly speak of, suspect, and split apart.
With this knowledge and using this as a vantage point, I began writing papers, training educators and presenting at conferences across the world. I attended the World Economic Forum, Davos 2020, to share my thoughts on education, smudged pages of history, and the possibility in arts. I designed courses, began mindfulness and exercise to heal rather than punish- all to find our own source of sanctity in a severely obscure world.
This is my think tank’s manifesto and work- to find our own footing and flow in a ferociously fast world.
Building my think tank has been the most difficult task I’ve ever undertaken. To not just build a startup solely by myself, as a very emotional, shy woman, in a bustling city like Bombay, but to make a world of non-believers, people who see autism as a disability, see the power of a child on the spectrum of autism has been hard. Launching my own startup tested my kindness, the work I’d so naturally done, and my inner strength- proving human potential that is so faintly visible is terribly difficult.
Moving forward, through my think tank, I hope to bring this sense of deep being and possibility to our kids, and to our work in the space of mental and political health in India- so we unleash our kids on the spectrum of autism, feistily, fully, and freely, rather than keep them caged, by rules dictated by man.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
Devangana Mishra is the CEO and Founder of Brain Bristle.
Suggested Reading: What Are ‘Masking’ And ‘Camouflaging’ In Context Of Autism And ADHD?