Put yourself in the shoes of a painter. There is a blank canvas in front of you, you have a rough plan in mind of how you’ll proceed and if everything goes according to the plan, you’ll get the perfect painting in the end. But life doesn’t believe in plans. One tiny moment can change everything. For Preeti Savur Bhambhani, that moment came eighteen years ago.
Born in Delhi, raised in Chandigarh, this Air-Force brat kicked ass academically. She’s done her B.Sc. in Microbiology, M.A. in English, B.Ed., a PGDM in Instructional Design and has an MBA. But a good educational background is just one tiny detail about her life, “I started out as a teacher, worked in that field for about 7 years, and then moved to Learning and
Development in BPOs/BPMs as a trainer” and she’s still working.
“I have been in this field for the last 15 years. Currently, I head the Customer Experience Training team for India and the Philippines for a US-based company.” She says her life before marriage was that of a typical Air-Force brat, “Footloose and fancy-free all thanks to my super liberal parents. They believed that my brother and I should lead our lives, however with discipline and accountability. My parents ensured that we got the best education and that I spent my free time pursuing my hobby for reading, whether at home or across the various libraries available to us in those days.”
A big fan of the Asian cuisine, Preeti dreams of travelling to the Scandinavian countries with her family in the future. But the present has a busy schedule for this supermom, “I wake up at 8 am and get things ready for my son so I can drop him at his art school. Get back at 10:30 am, take care of the household chores and my three dogs. Workout at 2 pm and leave for work at 3” it doesn’t stop there, she works till 2 am (yes! 2 am), gets back home, reads a book and sleeps by 3:30 am.
So, she’s the perfect woman with the perfect life. Then what happened eighteen years ago?
“Our son, Ayush, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder 18 years ago. Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified was the clinical diagnosis.”
Remember that thing about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, time to try them on and understand, “I will never forget that moment, sitting and waiting after the tests, when the doctor entered the room after a lengthy, gruelling exam, she didn’t even have to say a word. The truth is, she was just confirming what I already knew. But to hear those words a few seconds later…Your son has autism.” That single moment changed her life forever.
Some of us will never truly know how a person reacts to a news like that. Some of us never heard something like that. But she did, “After Ayush’s diagnosis, I went through the typical stages of grief. Why my sweet child? Why me? How could this possibly happen? Where did I go wrong? Is this my fault? How will I ever get through this? How will I juggle it all?”
“It’s heartbreaking to watch your child struggle. If you’ve never had to experience this feeling, count your blessings!”
But she wasn’t the only one who felt the grief, “When Anil (her husband) and I began our journey as autism parents, every single, little thing felt like a battle, from making simple everyday choices without meltdowns to navigating large, overwhelming family functions, to sensory overload just about everywhere we went. Ayush was overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed. I was lost.”
She explains that there is no one single solution to autism, “Every autism diagnosis is different. If you’ve met one kid with autism, well, you’ve met one kid with autism. You have to discover the right solution for your child, and that’s way easier said than done.”
Like any person new to a problem, Preeti Savur had no straight answers to her questions in the beginning, “Should I be giving him B12 injections? What the heck is this alphabet soup of therapy options — ABA, VB, PRT, DTT, ESDM — and which one is right for
Ayush? Do I really need to completely change his diet? Where should we send him to school? How in the world are we going to afford all of this?”
“The girl who always had all of the answers didn’t have the answer to this problem.”
One may not be able to find all the answers to their problems in one go, but support from their loved ones makes this path much easier, as she says, “My parents rallied around me and until today are my pillar of unstinting support. I could not have done it without them. My parents and brother, have always been there with me every step of the way and love me and both my kids, unconditionally.”
The first step of dealing with any situation is acceptance, “Autism happened to Ayush for a reason. Autism happened to me for a reason.” she says as she describes the next stage of her life.
“After a few days of crying, feeling sorry for myself and isolating myself from the world, I snapped out of it. I had no other choice. I needed to realize my purpose. And that was to help this amazing little boy accomplish everything the world said he couldn’t. I never got angry with my circumstances, did not want to delve into negativity and lose out.” It was her positive approach towards life that kept her going.
“At the time of diagnosis, he had no voice. I had to be his voice.” As she realised this, she made it her life’s mission to find out all the answers to all the questions and plan with the help of her support team.
Now, some of you may not know what autism actually is. Google it, find out what it means, read the science explaining the disorder, but there are certain things that hold more value to us humans and Preeti explains it perfectly,
“I’ve always been a very patient person. But I had to become more patient. With autism, patience is crucial.”
“I’ve always been an optimistic person. But I had to become more optimistic. With autism, a positive outlook is essential.”
“I’ve always had a big heart and lots of love to give. With autism, there’s no better therapy than unconditional love. It’s easy to get tangled in the web of uncertainty. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and sometimes, shut down because of it. But somehow, you have to keep fighting through the rough spots and never lose hope.”
After all this, one question pops up – Why do people get upset when they find out their loved ones are differently-abled?
She answers, “I cannot answer for others. I can speak for myself. Raising a special-needs child certainly wasn’t part of my life plan. This is the girl who had everything
mapped out, from career to motherhood, to what I had hoped and dreamed my children would accomplish.”
“I had mapped out my career ladder, I had mapped out our plan for our dream home. I had mapped out our plan to have two children. I had mapped out my plans for them to work hard, be kind, set ambitious goals, achieve said goals and serve as examples for others. I very quickly learned that life plans are meant to evolve.”
“I may not be in the position at work I once dreamed of, but I couldn’t be happier with where I’ve landed.”
Preeti needed inspiration, the drive to keep going and it came from the people she loves the most, “Ayush challenges me every single day to be a better mom, a better person. He’s taught me to spot that teeny tiny ray of light in times of gloom. He’s taught me how to truly
appreciate life’s little moments and simple joys. His smile can light up a room. His belly laugh is contagious. I love seeing the world through his eyes.”
She adds, “When life knocks me down, again and again, my children are my inspiration to get back up. Motherhood has been life’s greatest gift. And in a strange way, the autism journey has been ….an unexpected blessing.”
Her plans for her children haven’t changed, “I’ve just had to adjust my expectations and definition of success in order to help my gifted daughter and my autistic son reach their individual fullest potential.”
Preeti Savur’s journey may have crossed a million milestones but her story hasn’t ended.
This was simply the first part of her story. Read more about her in the second part of this series.
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