Ashwin is a 27 year old adult with Autism. He has no academic skills, but went to various mainstream schools in Goa that had life skill resource rooms practicing inclusive education. He went to the first resource room of Goa that was started by special educator, Ms Giselle Lobo with 8 of us parents at Holy Cross High School Bastora in 2003. After that he has been doing vocational training & presently goes to the Owl House Centre at Aldona & Divya Sadan at Porvorim for skill training.

At the age of 4, he was initially diagnosed with speech development delay & mild Autism disorder, but in later years it was realised it was the classic case of Autism Spectrum Disorder. When he was around 14 years old, stitching on matte material was taken up as an activity during holidays mainly to keep him occupied. It was a simple single stitch. Later I taught him a few more simple stitches & converted them into table mats & table runners for my home. Meanwhile I started making gifts for his teachers at school for Teachers Day with the mat embroidery work done by him. Later I converted them into jewellery & gifted it to my few friends. When lockdown was announced in 2020, I restarted his mat embroidery work to keep him meaningfully occupied. I thought of converting them into trays as gifts.

ai generated, mother, son

Then made a mobile stand using note book with so many online classes my daughter covers. Then I hit upon an idea & decorated it with his embroidery work. I knew it would sell as a unique product it was recycled, foldable, and handmade, just in tune with the Atmanirbhar slogan. I then added products & created the brand name Ashwin" with his name. Products now include Trays, bags, Purses, Jewellery, Mats, Cushion Covers, and Mobile stands all using Mat Embroidery done by Ashwin.

As mentioned earlier he can't read nor write, but can follow structured systems. We need to mark out the patterns & thread the needle. He then does the stitching & does so at very great speed. I have collaborated with a factory to make trays, a local tailor to make purses, bags, cushion covers. I customise the colours as per the client's requirements. He does beading whenever required for jewellery & then I assemble it. All packaging is done by me while deliveries are either hand delivered or by post. So it's just a team of both of us.

For a person who could not sit for a minute & had no special "genius" talents, he has come a long way. (Meanwhile all children with Autism are not geniuses as the world assumes, it's just one in 1000) Every activity needs to be taught in a structured matter with systems in place for most people with Autism. Then he hit puberty & he had huge behavioural issues & so I stopped all teaching activity. It took about 3 years for him settle down with medication & had to restart life all over again. Today with just a skill of a simple embroidery stitch, that I took years to teach & put together, I have managed to put together this brand.

During lockdown when I started, I posted a photograph on whatsapp to my friends & on Facebook. And it hit off. Most of the products were sold online on Facebook page & shipped all over India. I have got support from so many friends & many whom I have never met. Now they in turn are using these products as gifts. In the initial year, we had a turnover of Rs 1 lakh, but now we have slowed down due to the lack of time. All his products are sold online on Facebook page, Instagram & shipped all over India by speed post or courier. 

The products are sold at pop up exhibitions for which the response is not too great. Some Malls & events do give us space to showcase the talent of people with disabilities, but that is not enough. There is no help from the Govt., especially for people with severe special needs. with Autism, Intellectual Disabilities & those
Inclusion begins at home, so families & the society need to come together. With this venture our family has become much bonded together. It's a win-win situation. For me Ashwin is a winner. With the brand being accepted in the market, I consider it as a small step towards inclusion of people with Autism in society. Hard work, determination, passion and a positive approach will never fail. Parents also need to accept their children & allow their child to bloom-it's not a sprint, it's a lifelong marathon which needs a lot of patience, dedication & resilience.

As parents, we seek empathy not sympathy from the community at large. Please accept our children & give them an opportunity so that they can be productive members of the society. We need livelihoods for people with disabilities to sustain & we are seeking to collaborate with business houses, corporate & anyone that can support this cause. We wish to create a society that supports the concept of inclusion in every way- from education to employment, recreation and residential facilities for people with disabilities.

Elizabeth Kurien (Architect Elizabeth Kurian is a parent of Ashwin, a 27 year old adult with autem from Goa. She is the founder member & presently the secretary of TIES. Towards inclusion Everywhere in Society, a parent support group of children with special noods).

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