Some people turn out to be a real inspiration when they sacrifice their today for a better, brighter or a promising tomorrow. Here’s a case of a mother who fought all odds to overcome some stiff challenges in life.
Dr Sonali Kataria is a gynaecologist who started her career as a junior resident from ESI Hospital, New Delhi 15 years ago. With a burning desire to get her Masters from a top college, Sonali secured an MD seat at AIIMS, New Delhi in 2004. The same year she tied the knot with an anaesthetist. Life looked promising with a straight road to career building. A road where there was no looking back. Soon she bagged a senior residency at AIIMS, got an opportunity to be part of a neurosciences training program at the University of Melbourne, Australia and went on to participate in world class research projects based on stem cell therapy.
After returning to India Sonali was suddenly faced with huge life challenges. First was attaining motherhood. Sonali overcame that when she was blessed with a son after some medical setbacks. Next, while she was still at the peak of her career, working as an assistant professor at Maulana Azad Medical College; she was faced with her second big test. Her new born had started regressing in developmental milestones. Her observations were condemned by paediatricians, who called her paranoid; however, a mother’s gut feel couldn’t betray her fears. Life changed for her almost overnight!
Unfortunately, all her apprehensions came true when her son was diagnosed with autism after two years of birth. Being a medical professional she understood what a mammoth challenge life had thrown at her. This set her on a r
oller coaster ride from one doctor to another and consulting numerous therapists. For an entire year she ran from door to door in order to find answers to her concerns, until she realised that this back breaking, exhaustive, financially draining exercise was bearing no result.
She decided to get out of her comfort zone, quit her job, altered her lifestyle and took the entire onus of helping her child all by herself.
Therapists had told her that her son might never be able to pedal a bicycle in a coordinated manner. Not to take things lying down, she instantly bought a bicycle and it took her a good one-and-a-half year to teach her son to pedal. Slowly and gradually, her son not only started to cycle like a champ but also learnt roller skating and playing ball games.
Fortunately, with her background of high quality education in medicine, she was able to manage a lot of therapies by herself. Soon one could see a lot of positive result. It was like a ‘pure miracle’ as she observed her autistic child gradually open up like a bud. He was no less than any normal kid his age. Though, there was a sense of achievement, Sonali was still dealing with her own frustrations. Her ambitious self had bouts of remorse. It was then that she chanced upon the ‘Son-Rise program’ being taught at the Autism Treatment Center of America. Soon her concerns were being answered. The Son-Rise program is a powerful program for management of children and adults challenged with Autism. This program proved to be an enlightening and an enriching experience that changed her perception towards autism forever. Son-Rise is an alternative treatment based upon the idea that the children show us the way in, and then we show them the way out. This means that, rather than trying to force our children to conform to a world that they don’t yet understand, we join them in their world first.
In September 2014, she rented a small place for a school and soon set the ball rolling to establish Sunrise Learning Foundation. The foundation supports all the special needs of children with disabilities and provides educational and para-educational tools for children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) and learning disabilities. Gradually, Sonali went on to develop a team of doctors, occupational therapists, special educators, speech therapists and specific trainers for music, dance, sports and art, experienced in helping and teaching children with disabilities. Through integrated revolutionary programs, they together create opportunities for these children to perform, participate and WIN.
The foundation has had a positive impact on scores of families in the last 2 years that face the challenge of raising an autistic child.
Says Sonali, “From teaching medical graduates and post-graduates, I began teaching special children. My life changed completely”. Every first Saturday of each month, Sonali conducts training sessions for mothers to increase their awareness on all aspects of autism.
Today Sonali’s foundation runs host of awareness campaigns, seminars, talks all over the country. Literature about autism and related conditions is also made available on a regular basis to schools and residential societies. “We hold integrated workshops for parents to help them deal with autistic children”, she says. Seminars for to-be parents and new parents are organised to educate them about child developmental milestones, symptoms and signs of delays.
Sonali has also taken a step ahead with the concept of a ‘Gift Bank’ for underprivileged children from where regular donations are made in the form of books, clothes, stationary, utensils and toys.
Skilled, determined, vivacious, with a warm heart and an endearing smile, Sonali, with the untiring support of her family and friends, is doing her bit to make a positive difference to the world of autism. Her relentless effort has bagged recognition in the form of nominations for Rashtriya Gaurav Puraskar 2014 and Indian Women’s Award for social service by Zee TV.