23-year-old Pranav Bakhshi, who became India's first model with autism after he walked the ramp for the Lakme Fashion Week, is challenging stereotypes with confidence and self-belief
New Delhi: “Autism is no disease, it’s a condition. Autism is my superpower, I don’t suffer from Autism,” says 23-year-old Pranav Bakhshi, who became India’s first model with autism after he walked the ramp for the Lakme Fashion Week. Currently working as an Associate Digital Producer with Thomson Reuters, Mr Bakhshi loves the limelight, lights, camera and action! He says enthusiastically,
“I like to pose in front of the camera, and I do poses and expressions in front of the mirror. I like to walk the ramp because it makes me feel good. I don’t feel nervous at all.”
However, Mr Bakhshi’s journey has not been easy, especially his constraints when it comes to negotiating crowded spaces. He says,
“I do not like crowded venues like concerts, malls, railway stations and airports. I handle the situation by ignoring the crowds.”
His mother, Anupama Bakhshi, a Phonetics Educator, over the years has found her own process of learning and unlearning what works for her son, Pranav.
“I had only followed Pranav, so I just tried to understand his challenges. Very happy, bright kid all over the place. He’s kind, he’s an empathy. I see all kinds of things, you know, long journey. But of course, there is autism behind all this. And his autism manifests in his obsessions and anxieties. So, we have coping mechanisms in place. He had such poor coordination issues back then, now he likes doing deadlifts. Fitness is a religion for him.”
Talking about autism, Merry Barua, Founder, Action for Autism says,
“The brains of autistic people are wired differently from the non-autistic people. As a result, they perceive the environment differently and the way they communicate or understand communication is different from the non-autistic person.”
According to a report by ETHealthWorld, about 18 million people in India are diagnosed with autism. It is important to understand that autism is a spectrum disorder, encompassing a diverse range of manifestations.
Elaborating on this spectrum, Merry Barua says,
“Much like in the general population, there are people with variations in intelligence. There is the same kind of variation in intelligence amongst autistic people. So, the way we try and look at it is, how able is the person to function independently? So, we look at that, somebody who is very independent, and you have people at the other end who would require a lot of support with all their day-to-day activities and everything in between. So people are across that entire spectrum.”
Given this wide spectrum of people with autism, how can there be an inclusive environment for individuals keeping in mind different kinds of disabilities?
To foster inclusivity, especially for autistic individuals, Ms Barua emphasises the importance of empathy and understanding. She says,
“Making environments inclusive for autistic people is trying to understand their experiences. So there are simple things like sometimes giving them a little time to process information because they’re dealing with a lot of sensory overload all the time, you have to give them that time.”
It is critical to create inclusive spaces as inclusive public spaces are fundamental to participation and inclusion in society. As for Pranav Bakshi, he is dreaming big. He aspires to relocate from Delhi to Mumbai, as India’s financial and entertainment capital beckons him with all its opportunities and possibilities.
Samarth by Hyundai in partnership with NDTV, is an initiative that seeks to promote inclusivity, change perceptions, and enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities.