Fellow Since 1998
Action for Autism
This profile was prepared when Merry Barua was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
Although autism affects more people than Down's Syndrome, the disability remains misdiagnosed by the medical community, misunderstood by autists' parents, unrecognized by the Indian government, and unknown by the general public. Through the provision of nearly a dozen services, Merry Barua is attacking all of these problems and creating opportunities for autistic children that have never before existed in India or its neighboring countries.Merry explains, "The autistic need specialized methods of training in communication and socializing skills rather than drugs and psychotherapy - the patent, ready prescription rendered to the autistic in disability institutions." From personal experience, she knows that parents of autistic children are their most important care providers and need a wide array of resources and support systems. She has therefore focused on their needs, and she demonstrates sustainability and potential for long-term impact by training them how to educate their own autistic children. In the process, Merry aims to break the monopoly of information and expertise that rests with the disability institutions abroad and develop a new generation of parent autism specialists who will establish ancillary units for autists in different parts of the country. However, even with access to the best resources and information, people with autism will never achieve their full potential without legislative support, which in turn requires firm lobbying from informed citizens and an insistent medical community. Hence, Merry's organization is putting pressure on the Indian government to acknowledge autism as a disability and provide funding for autists.