Meera is an amazing artistic talent on the autistic spectrum. This wonder girl paints, makes bead jewellery, makes colourful diyas and my favourite of all – awesome quilling cards! Meera communicates through a combination of signs and emerging words. Her art, though, speaks volumes about her talent and hard work. Let’s get to know her better by chatting first with her mother – Tharunya.
Q) Please share your Autism journey with us..
Meera was diagnosed with autism when she was almost 3. All her milestones were on time and everything was fine till a few months before her second birthday. It was then, that we noticed she’d started regressing. By two and a half she had lost all of her speech/ vocabulary and what ever skills (imitating, responding to people, eye contact, etc.) that she had. She withdrew into her own little world, where fortunately, I too belonged. She was literally terrified to let go of me.
Her diagnosis was a big blow. That initial phase was tough. My awareness about autism was zero then. We had a name for it. We now knew what was wrong, but we lacked proper direction. We knew the reasons for her total lack of sleep, the constant crying, the anxiety and the myriad issues that came with it… It was overwhelming and hard to come to terms with what was happening.
Meera’s extreme anxiety related crying made it almost impossible for us to find a therapy centre to accommodate her at that point. We did meet some very nice people who did try their best.. but she wasn’t getting the intervention she needed.
Doing a course in special education is what helped me overcome denial and gain some perspective. It also prepared me to an extent, for the magnitude of what we were to face.
With the guidance of therapists, we slowly started working with her at home. She started responding to her name and slowly coming out of her shell. She now shares more smiles with her dad, uncle and me. We eventually found a school where Meera overcame the anxiety barrier and slowly started trusting people. That was one of our biggest breakthroughs. The day she went out alone with her dad on a bike ride was one of our first celebrations!! It was a huge milestone. At the age of 5, she had begun to trust him!
From there on, Meera slowly started learning and making progress. With guidance from an excellent speech therapist, she learnt to communicate using a few signs. This opened out new doors. Meera had found a way to ask for things. Few of those signs evolved to words. No more crying. Learning was now an enjoyable experience. Another huge milestone!!
At this point we enrolled her for an ABA program which helped reduce some of her behaviour issues. She also started communicating more fluently with signs. Vocal imitation improved and she slowly started forming a few words. It was also around this time, we came to know that she has something called verbal apraxia which is probably the reason why even though she can say words, communicative speech as such, is limited.
After her brother was born, we opted for a home based program monitored by a consultant. We had a trainer coming home for two hours everyday. Meera was eleven. We stuck to very functional goals and focused on increasing her independence and building up her strengths. Home based therapy was very effective. It was hands on and I too got to be more involved in picking out targets, maintaining goals, etc.. Among other things, she learnt to engage her self meaningfully for a set time with hobbies and activities. She also learnt to use a visual schedule to manage her tasks.
It was also around this time that we started encouraging her interest in art and craft. She likes being appreciated for her work. She loves it when anyone wears something that she has made. She looks on with a big bright smile when I show pictures of her work to anyone.. Which is how “Meera’s Trinkets” happened. Looking to see how it can be taken forward.
We moved to Coimbatore recently. Meera now goes to a full day program in a special school. She seems to like it here. She has developed a sense of identity. Her self esteem is at an all time high. With the help of her OT she has learnt to ride a bicycle. Its like she’s got a pair of wings. She is also learning to communicate using the iPad. She can now take care of herself and for the first time ever, stayed away from home when they had a sleepover at school. And to our surprise, totally enjoyed staying over with her classmates and teachers.
This has been our journey so far. Meera has definitely come a long way (especially, from the little clingy girl who was always crying). I am grateful to all her therapists and teachers for helping us get here.
Q) Tell us about the various artistic talents of Meera and how you nurtured them.
Right from a very early age, Meera has had an eye for colour. She comes up with the most amazing colour combinations. Her fascination for colours and patterns fostered an interest in art and craft. We were always on the lookout for activities to keep her engaged meaningfully and her interest in craft played right in.. I started enjoying our little craft sessions as much as she did! This turned out to be our “special bonding” time.
When she was around seven or eight, we came across hand painted diyas at a supermarket and decided to give it a try. Meera picked out some stunning colour combinations. The very first day she painted almost a dozen diyas, staying up till around 1 am. Initially, she would insist i touch up any smudges that she’d made. With lots of practice, over the years, she’s better with her stokes and now paints diyas perfectly on her own. She loves playing around with paint, creating backgrounds for leaf printing or block printing. I’m now trying to teach her to follow videos on YouTube, hoping she will be inspired to experiment a little more.
Stringing beads was one of Meera’s favourite fine motor activities. To direct that into a more meaningful and productive skill, I encouraged her to try making bracelets.
Initially I used to draw the pattern and she would follow it by matching the beads to the pattern and later string them.
The next step, I let her choose the colours and combinations from a given set of materials. She slowly started arranging the beads her self, in a definite pattern and would string them on a given length of wire. We weaned out the pattern jig eventually.
In the meantime, I was also showing her images of beaded jewellery whenever we got some idle time or when waiting for the van, etc.
She learnt to distinguish between different lengths of wire associating them with bracelets or neck pieces and quickly moved on to making neck pieces similar to bracelets with her own combinations of different coloured beads and spacers.
At present, she makes simple patterns on her own, also tries to pick out appropriate pendants. She occasionally needs a little help with tightening knots and fixing clasps. Our next step is teaching her to measure out appropriate lengths for bracelets and neck pieces accordingly. Hopefully she will master that soon.
She once had this constant need to keep pulling at things with her fingertips, be it edges of clothing or paper or texture of any kind. We started of with quilling then. I started showing her pictures of quilled jewellery or cards from Pinterest on the iPad. If she liked something, she would point out and we would both try and re-create it. Here again, I would let her pick out the colours. I also realised that she has amazing dexterity. We experimented a little with origami too. At one point she seemed satiated with quilling and it slowed down a little. She still makes cards or jhumkas, once in a while. Depends on her mood though.. I try not to force her as I want her to enjoy what she is doing.
She is showing some interest in zentangles and needlework. Hoping the interest continues and we can take it forward.
Q) Your advice to other Autism parents..
As a parent, you know your child best. Do what YOU feel is best for your child. And don’t forget to take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
Now, let meet the star of the interview – Meera
Q) How old are you Meera?
Q) What school are you attending?
Kaumaram Prashanthi Academy (Coimbatore)
Q) When did you start making jewellery with beads?
Q) Your Quilling cards are beautiful. Where did you learn?
Amma taught me after seeing on the iPad
Q) Tell us about your paintings, when did you start making them?
Made the paintings during summer holidays last year
Q) How can we purchase them?
Please contact Amma through the Facebook page
Q) You recently started making diyas, tell us more about that
I love to play with colours and enjoy seeing the diyas in different colours.
Q) Do you like traveling Meera? Your favourite or recent vacation?
Yes. I love really long drives in Acha’s car. Love to play in the beach at Pondicherry. Also love visiting grandparents at Coonoor and Palakkad
Q) Do you like watching videos or movies? What’s your favourite one?
Not very fond of TV. Sometimes watch Tom and Jerry with Nikki. Beginning to like watching painting/ craft videos on Amma’s phone or on the iPad
Q) How do you spend time with your brother?
I love playing with Nikki. He sometimes orders me around and it is fun.
Meera loves her younger brother, Nikki and helps him get ready for school. She helps her mom with chores and is also learning to cook. She truly is a gem! Children on the Autism spectrum shine under loving care and guidance. Meera’s parents loved and encouraged her to explore her creativity in many ways and they turned her interests in to a source of pride of Meera! God bless you dear!
Please visit her Facebook page – Meera’s Trinkets and encourage her :
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