Now that you have watched the Manjummel boys and joined in jubilation at the rescue of Subhash from a bottomless pit or felt your tears oozing for Guna’s unconditional love for Abhirami, and compassion towards the empathetic teacher who brings out the best in a misfit child, Ishaan, in Taare Zameen Par, and finally, the acceptance of Ray by his younger brother Charlie, here’s something very important.

Every character has one thing in common that links it to Autism. Subhash suffers from anxiety and exaggerated fear. Guna is hyperactive and impulsive when he kidnaps Abhirami without weighing the consequences. Ishaan doesn’t fit in with his neighbours during playtime, and Raymond eats his waffles with a toothpick while a fork is the norm. But thousands of such people with eccentricities live among us.

As we live in a fast-paced world, it’s possible for us to generalise them all as weird or retarded and move on. In my opinion, everyone has their mania. But societal pressure makes them subdue it and not express it. Then what about the others who can’t subdue them? And require help. Do we offer them help to change their state of mind and rejoin society? That’s not the case with Autism. I will tell you why.

Defining Autism
What is Autism? Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or Autism is a neurological and developmental disorder. In layman’s terms, it means that their brain is wired differently. Subhash needs more confidence and bravado. Maybe because he was raised by single parents and lacked a fatherly figure, he’s always looking for someone on that spectrum to save him. Likewise, Ishaan refuses to communicate his problems in school and the neighbourhood because his performance points lie elsewhere. Subhash is depressive. And Ishaan is dyslexic. Both are treatable with medicines and counselling.

Psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist in the year 1908, gave his schizophrenic patient a differential diagnosis because of the deviations from the typical symptoms. He coined it from the Greek word “Autós” meaning self. The patients live in a world of their own.

Guna is also a single parent raised and lives among prostitutes, which evokes disgust in him and requires a fictional character like Abhirami to salvage him from his imagined misery. He has neurodivergent behaviour. He’s normal once he completely takes over a different pole when subjected to stimulation like harming his loved ones. He has features of Autism. He resorts to self-inflicted pain when his guilt is kindled. The doctor whose care he’s under gives him electrotherapy and an injection of sodium pentothal to calm him down temporarily. But it seldom cures him. Because the doctor has missed diagnosing Autism. In Rain Man, Ray always avoids eye contact and follows a routine of watching specific TV programs, reading books, or even eating pizza, as Friday was Pizza Day. Any diversion from this makes him hysterical.

Diagnosing Autism
What makes diagnosing Autism a big challenge? It’s a neurodevelopmental disorder and manifests early in a child’s life; sometimes diagnosed later in their adult life. Guna could have developed symptoms of Autism as he grew up. But Ray was diagnosed as Autistic much earlier in life and sent to a special needs school. It’s a clinical evaluation that doesn’t require any particular test but a psychiatric evaluation.

Symptoms of Autism
Guna, a neurodivergent, could pick locks and was used for thieving activities. Ray could count and do complex mathematics, which his brother used to count cards in blackjack and earned him a fortune in a casino in Las Vegas. However, on the other side, they usually avoid eye contact for fear of confrontation due to their eccentric acts. There is awkward body language as Ray is seen slouching and has a peculiar gait. Though seen slouching in the first half, Guna takes up a confident stance yet is submissive later.

Autistics have a rigid facial expression and show little or no interest in other children or their caregivers. They also have delayed speech or language skills. Severe symptoms are seizures, which occur in 30% of younger autistics. Sometimes, they self-harm if they are denied their habits or routines. It’s estimated around 1 in 100 in the world are autistic and are primarily males. And no childhood vaccine or even the reason COVID vaccines don’t cause Autism, and all the studies are hole-ridden with bias and unreliable.

Is there a cure for Autism?
There is no cure for Autism. But there is therapy. Sometimes, it is long. It’s a fine line between training the patient to form a routine or to embrace it and, more importantly, prepping the caregiver to mentally, physically, and emotionally strengthen them to live and deal with the patient. It takes time for a psychiatrist, psychologist, or pediatric neurologist to assess the patient, summarise the symptoms, and pass the information on to a team that helps the patient and caregiver better understand the autistic patient. Nowadays, some special needs schools take up the job.

Subhash and Ishaan both had traits of Autism but got turned around by friends and a compassionate teacher. Guna, too, changes when his goddess of love, Abirami, comes into his life. They say love is universal. And that’s proved when the soul-stirring love ballad Kanmani Anbodu Kadhalan reverberates in the movie hall. So it applies well to Siju when he rescues Subhash from the pit. But sometimes love means letting go. Charlie Babbit lets go of his brother Raymond Babbit, though he knows he can love and care for his brother. Charlie knows Ray won’t fit into the real world. So, if you have an autistic child. Give them all you got. They will respond differently, but these differences make man a unique being. Learn to accept and love unconditionally.

  • Dr Murugananth R, MBBS, Diploma in ophthalmology, Senior Consultant eye surgeon.