A teenager on a mission to reach out to 1000 autistic people, sets example in the societyAnshu J Singh
New Delhi, 20th July, 2019: Junko Ota is a class 12th student of British School in Delhi. At the age of 16, she started a social initiative called Journal and Journeys, an event that brings together voices on autism treatment, care and support, to discuss alternative treatment options, sustainable care strategies, and create extensive institutional support systems.
With her latest conference 'Open Voices- Analyzing the Developments in Autism Education and Management' held in the IIC, New Delhi on 20th July, Junko Ota has brought NGOs and individuals who have worked with alternative and non-traditional approaches for treating and managing autism, including art therapy, highlights upon the need of creating awareness about autism in the country.
A passionate student of Art and Psychology, Ota always worked with those suffering from autism since grade 3.
Junta Ota says, “I have always been a passionate student of Art and Psychology, and Journals and Journeys, and now the Open Voices Conference, is my way of not only exploring these disciplines but contributing to the community at large. Through our efforts, we aim to increase awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder and the various, innovative and advanced forms of treatment and research being done for individuals on the spectrum. I also plan to reach out and serve 1000 children with Autism in next one year”.
Ota adds, “When I was in grade three I volunteered with NGOs working with persons with disabilities. In every summer break, I spent time with them. I think this is what drove towards the issue and study the need for alternative therapies than just traditional therapy which is also scientifically proven”.
She feels, that it was her strong will which helped her get the support of NGOs like Action for Autism, Samadhan, Joy of Drama among others to take the initiative forward through their expertise.
“So, yes I am very young. I am still in High School and I am not a professional. I do aim to be a special educator in Psychology, especially for differently-abled children and autistic community. I want people to believe in me and take my work seriously that’s why I partnered with professionals, NGOs and movements doing good work in the field of autism to provide their expertise”, says Ota.
Autism is a Spectrum Disorder (ASD) which can have mild, moderate and severe affect on a child. It impairs the ability to communicate and interact with others It affects not only the child but also the family. According to the studies, 1 in 68 children being diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in India.
Moving forwards, Ota wants to take this campaign forward and in next one year reach out to as many 40 organisations, special schools, parent support groups and behavioral therapy centers to help people affected with autism.
“I thought Delhi is the right place to start from as most of the organizations working in the sector are from here. Now, I would like to take this conference to other cities in the country” said Ota.
Her only challenge in her mission is to convince big organisations as she is just a teenager and lack expertise. But it's her intentions which bring her the kind of support she needs from family and friends.
At the age of 12 years, I organised a garage sale with three friends. We sold old books and usable toys and managed to collect little funds which we have to an NGO working for providing interventions, education and therapies to autistic children.
Since then through her work, associations and social media she has been continuously spreading the word around autism and alternative therapy.
The volunteering exposure changed my life as a child; it inculcated values in me and taught me a lot about life. I never thought I will receive this kind of support at a nascent stage. But I feel it's the intention that matter and people joined me, she adds.
Ota wants to be pillar strength for autistic community and is setting an example for many young children who wants to bring the change in the society.
Merry Barua, Founder and Director of Action for Autism,“She had come to us and volunteered with kids with severe autism. She was happy and very comfortable with them. Children were happy and they looked forward to her visits. For someone as young as her and thinking and wanting to put her interest in psychology and art and do this is amazing”.
Sumathi Morgan, Director of Samadhan, “Initially, I didn’t take it seriously. I was like it’s amazing how a young girl taking it up the issue but when she approached me told me about her work I thought that I should speak at the conference. She has a vision, its a great effort and given space to share your speak about your experiences and today we learnt from other speakers”.
Vaishali Chakravarty, Founder of Joy of Drama, “There are very few people who would talk about Autism Education and Autism Awareness and Junko being still a child in school has taken up a big initiative. In today’s times if children like Junko help raise awareness of this level then I think we are in a good place”.
About Journals and Journeys:
Journals and Journeys was founded by Junko Ota, a Grade 12 student of the British School, New Delhi in 2018. Journals and Journeys aim to incorporate art therapy – with an emphasis on visual journaling – to foster a culture of self–expression for autistic individuals who are uniquely marginalized in our society and often unable to find spaces to voice themselves. The project works on the belief that a nuanced understanding of ASD (autism spectrum disorders) and a compassionate approach towards those diagnosed with this condition would facilitate change in the conventional mindset that regards them as ‘dependent’, and allowing them space to reflect on their own art and engage with the public on their own terms would make for an empowering experience.