September 22, 2020

Kannika Bharath Iyengar on her journey as a counsellor, baker, having an eco friendly wedding and talking on autism in children.

Kannika Iyengar is a counsellor, a passionate baker, a daughter who is in awe with her mum and talks of an interesting journey in life. This is a happy story that infuses positivity and talks of positive parenting.

As a counselor she also points out the traits and management of autism in children, an area she specializes in her professional life.

“My memories of my childhood are full of fun and laughter, with my parents and grandparent around us all the time to play with us.

I enjoyed every moment of the boisterous childhood I had with so many aunts, uncles, grandparents taking care of us….When I reflect back on those early years, I think there was a balance in my life – with my parents taking on the disciplining role (sometimes) and my grandparents spoiling us to no end!!! But the common thing amongst all of them was that they encouraged us in the things we liked to do, and were always there to support any new endeavour we started (whether it be building a sand castle during high tide on the beach, or wanting to learn a new instrument).

My parents are the classic combination of a doctor-engineer duo and graduated from some of the best colleges in India. But my brother and I have never felt pressurized to follow in their footsteps and take forward the companies they both have started. I have become a counsellor and my brother is an ecologist. Though the rest of society questioned the fields we both got into, our parents gave us the whole-hearted support we needed and indeed encouraged us to follow what interests us. I also remember them telling us that we don’t have to worry about earning until we are 30 and that we should use this as an opportunity to explore and make a difference in this world.

I love to bake and cook and baking bread is my best stress buster. My mother and my maternal grandmother hate the idea of cooking but my paternal grandmother was a great cook and loved to feed people; and I believe her genes have passed directly down to me.

I have a  Masters in Counselling from the University of Edinburgh. I currently consult in a number of Bangalore-based organisations for work related to autism spectrum disorders and counselling. I counsel people across a range of economic and social backgrounds, and deal with issues ranging from academic and adolescent to marital problems, old age related issues, aggression, obsessive compulsive tendencies, etc

Autism is a huge concern, and we are seeing a lot of it in India. As it is not part of the person’s with disabilities (PWD) Act, we don’t have an accurate number of how many individuals with Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) there are in India; but several studies show that it could be as high as 1 in 100/150 children being diagnosed with autism. Official statistics in the US place ASD as 1 in 68 individuals and the number of children being seen with ASD is higher than juvenile diabetes, pediatric cancer and AIDS all put together. So yes, Autism Spectrum Disorders are a huge concern and we should all be aware of it.

Parents with infants and young children – please look out for the following:

  • Delayed speech
  • The child does not respond to his or her name when called out by a familiar person
  • The baby does not smile /respond to the primary caretaker when he / she sees them.
  • Delayed milestones
  • Repetitive play – the baby plays in the same way with a toy (no exploration) and sometimes prefers only one kind of toy.
  • Needs to follow a structure and routine
  • Prefers to play alone and does not mingle with their peer group
  • Lacks in imagination, creativity and imitation skills.

If your child or a child you know is showing any of these symptoms, please take the child to a pediatrician or a psychologist for an assessment. Do not take any of the online assessments that one can find on the internet and self diagnose your child. And remember that early, intensive and consistent therapy can help a child diagnosed with autism reach their potential and overcome some of the challenges they face.

Having a child with autism is a challenge as it is a lifelong disorder. It is very important to work with children as soon as they are diagnosed as trying to teach them new skills in their teens / young adulthood is very difficult. To parents who have children with ASD, I would suggest that they identify the skills that their child is good at and interested in and start developing those skills into productive work when they are in their teens itself. Identifying a workspace that will integrate their child’s needs and support them while providing them with productive work is also an important aspect of getting individuals with autism into the mainstream workforce. “

Having a mum who believes in eco friendly measures and taking up such drives had Kannika too set an example when she went for an eco friendly wedding. “ When I got engaged in January 2014 and the wedding date was set as May 2014, the first thing that Amma requested was that we make it a completely eco-friendly event and both my husband and I were thrilled with the idea and my in-laws supported us through this amazingly!!!!

Primarily it was taking the ‘produce as little waste as possible’ lifestyle that we live a step further. I think we would have all been unhappy had we produced tonnes of waste, as that would have been going against the way we have lived our lives over the last decade, and would have been horrible way to begin the next chapter in my life.

The main areas that produce garbage in a wedding are decorations and food.

So we used only local seasonal flowers tied with cotton thread as the decorations for the wedding and had rows of light blue lights for the reception – no thermocole, plastic, etc – and the venue looked gorgeous. At the end of the wedding all the flowers were taken home and composted and the compost made from ‘shavantige and mallige’ was the best we have ever produced. The flower garlands that we all wore had no zari or decorative pieces and were tied with cotton thread too..

We sent e-invites to a majority of our guests and had only 50 printed invites for senior family members. We regularly sent mails to the family and friends invited for the wedding and kept them updated on what we were doing to make it eco-friendly. We also requested them not to give us any gifts or bouquets and if they so wanted they could donate in our names to a charity of their choice.

And our guests complied – I received not a single boxed gift and many of my friends donated towards various causes in our name.

We ensured that all the food was served in reusable melamine, steel and glass utensils and fed over 2000 people without producing a single piece of disposable cutlery. I also got the students I work with (young adults who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders) to print cloth napkins with various designs so that we did not use paper napkins. The water we used to wash these napkins was significantly less than what would have gone into producing that many paper tissues. We have since reused these napkins over dozens of times at various events.

At the end of my grand wedding, over 2000 people came and enjoyed themselves, while we produced no waste that went into Bangalore’s landfills. The flower decorations and banana leaves used for lunch came home for composting, a little under 30kgs of cooked food waste and vegetable peels went to a piggery, and all the utensils got washed and went back to the vendors we got them from.

I love teaching people how to cook and run workshops on baking and cooking healthy food.”

We at Mums and stories are thankful for Kannika and her mum Meenakshi Ramoo Bharath  for setting an example in their own way that can have a huge impact on the society.

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