Only a few decades ago, the term autism would have made no sense to an average Indian. During the 1980s, a woman set out on an unusual journey across the capital of India, trying to educate the public about autism, at a time when the Dustin Hoffman movie, Rainman was out in cassettes.
It all began in 1981 when Merry Barua gave birth to an autistic son, whom she named Neeraj. She struggled to get proper care for her son at different institutions, but none could grasp Neeraj’s disability. Only when she moved to the US when Neeraj was 11 years old, she could find the support he needed. After working with Neeraj for over a year, attending a course on how to take care of autistic children, she felt the need to share her knowledge about autism care to millions of parents like her in India.
She felt that the Indian public had little or no awareness about the disorder and started a national movement for spreading awareness about autism in India. She founded AFA (Action for Autism) in 1991 with the sole purpose of educating the public about the disorder and how to take care of the children suffering from it. She formed a lot of network groups and sat down with families, sensitizing them about what their beloveds are suffering from and training them how to take proper care of them.
In 2006, her works resulted in the inclusion of autism in the Disability Act by the government. The government also offered a grant for her AFA movement, which was a huge motivation for the movement. Her efforts also inspired the establishment of several special schools for autistic children. In an interview, she expressed her hope to expand this movement further and include vocational training for autistic children to ensure their employment and independence.