Meet Aishwarya Sriram, 34 and autistic. When Aishwarya was a little under three years old, her parents noticed some peculiar habits in their daughter: she wouldn’t say her name, would gaze vacantly, not answer questions, not play with other children and would cry when she saw strangers. After several tests, Aishwarya was diagnosed as having ‘autistic tendencies’. There was little knowledge about autism then, with many people thinking that such children didn’t have a future. Today, Aishwarya has proved them wrong by becoming a published author.
In her book titled, ‘Avalakku Endru Ore Manam’, Aishy’s Jottings (roughly translated as ‘A Mind of Her Own’), Aishwarya talks about herself in first person, reports The Times Of India. Every page in the book has handwritten jottings in Tamil, extracted from six sets of diaries that Aishwarya wrote over many years.
To keep his daughter gainfully occupied, Aishwarya’s father, Sriram, would ask her questions every day. Aishwarya would write down the answers in a diary. The diaries are a window into Aishwarya’s world, showing how she lived each day – deeply meaningful in capturing the mundane. Her short observations on everyday activities like cutting vegetables and riding her bicycle are poignant. The diaries – interspersed with pages containing pencil sketches – also detail Aishwarya’s emotions after her body went through seizures.
“Many now know about autism due to awareness campaigns. But at that time I didn’t understand it and I was shattered. Physically, she was alright. I thought she’d get better,” said Girija, Aishwarya’s mother. Aishwarya was shifted to a special school where special tutors discovered that she was good at writing. They focused on her mother tongue – her best medium to express her feelings and thoughts.
In an interview with Parenting Autism India, Aishwarya’s parents said her passion for jigsaw puzzles started at Vijay Human Services in Chennai, when she was 10 years old. Aishwarya’s passion for solving puzzles remains. She can assemble jigsaw puzzles of 1,000 pieces or more effortlessly.
Aishwarya is also good at sketching on the computer. She was taught the rudiments of Adobe Photoshop by her instructor a couple of years back. Using a combination of just two or three simple tool applications such as layering, colours and marquee tool/polygon, she went on to evolve her own unique, artistic way of drawing faces from Indian mythology. Her collection was named ‘Gods in Abstract’ and published in calendar form.
“We decided not to sanitise Aishwarya’s writing,” says her older sister, Abhirami, a freelance book editor and reviewer. “The book is unique not just because of her perspective but also because of her language.”