We had a neighbourhood meeting in my garden today. The average age of the participants was ten. The kids were serious and thoughtful.

Group of children, some standing, some in chairs, looking seriousI had asked them to come because we had a situation. I thought they could help.

One of our students had recently moved into the house across the street from us. Ashwin has Autism and when he’s anxious or bored, he moans. Quite loudly. Neighbours were complaining and his landlords were under some pressure.

(Not that they were bothered. The Agrawals are wonderful people. They told me: “People talk about our sanskar. This is what sanskar means. Ashwin could be anybody’s child. If we can’t give him a place to live, who will?”)

Little boy in a yellow jacket

But as much as I love that attitude, I also know that Ashwin has to live in the real world. He needs to understand a little bit about how other people think. And also, more important, he needs friends.

At Karuna Vihar, he’s got friends. He knows their names and how they like to play and he’s able to cope. It’s a little more challenging in the neighbourhood. Because as friendly and welcoming as people try to be, most of them don’t really understand how it is for a kid with Autism.

That’s why we needed to have a meeting with the kids.

Children sitting in a circle in a garden; woman in foreground explainingSunita, Nisha, Hema and Deepa were there to talk with them.They explained how Ashwin thinks and what the world looks like to him and they gave them some ideas about how they could make friends with him and what it would look like to involve him in their games.

The kids, bless them, were totally on board. They already felt comfortable with Ashwin (“He’s so sweet, Auntie. We all like him a lot.”) but they didn’t quite know how to get him to participate.

So we told them a bit about how Ashwin thinks and how it might look to make it easy for him to join in and make friends. And then we showed them.

Kids playing "Catch As Catch Can" with 2 adults forming a bridge and kids running through itIf kids in wheelchairs can participate, what’s the problem for kids like Ashwin?

Our neighbourhood meeting was amazing. The children asked questions and came up with answers.

Girls in meeting, hands raised to share their answersAnd the best – by far – was the final summation:

“Auntie, can we do this again? But next time, let’s ask Ashwin to come too!”

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