Autism, apps and the Arunima project
I first came across the Arunima project in 2011 while I was responding to queries on the Indian Autism forum. I was writing about my vision to improve services for people with Autism and Intellectual Disability in India. Aparna Das replied immediately and told me that’s she was in the process of building a facility in Dehradun, at the foothills of the Himalayas.
I immediately picked up the phone and asked her how I could play my part. She asked only that I share my experience as a speech and language therapist as I have many years of experience working with Autistic people. Over the next few years Aparna introduced me to her extended family of service users including her own sister who has a diagnosis of Autism. We were constantly in contact with each other and have been to this date. Over the next few months, I worked as a consultant with some of Aparna’s clients and their families. I became increasingly excited about her plans to create a residential facility where Autistic people are enabled to live independent and dignified lives.
Now Arunima is a reality. Highly trained staff and genuinely interested parents work together to provide the best possible services for residents. In April 2015, I had the opportunity to travel to India to visit this incredible project.
After meeting staff and clients at Arunima I took the opportunity to observe their working practices. Then I delivered my first workshop on the use of technology and apps to enhance life with autism. It was scheduled to run for three hours but it actually went on for five hours as I answered questions after question from health care professionals and parents. They were particularly interested in the speech and language therapy app I helped to develop called Talk Around It. One reason for my trip to India was to introduce the Hindi language version of this app which is called Meri Vaani.
Meri Vaani is the first speech and language therapy app of its type in Hindi. It uses evidence-based therapy exercises that help people to learn or relearn words. The app enables people to practise effective exercises in a clinical setting or at home.
On my final day I visited Arunima’s day care centre where I met staff and discussed their daily curriculum and vocational activities. In my view, this is one of the best centers I have seen for people living with autism. Leaving Dehradun I knew that our work is making a difference.
Milind Sonawane SLT
Author: Aviva Cohen