Saturday Story 14: You’re Special
Shyam Sunder held the phone receiver a metre away from his ear. The voice at the other end was livid, blaming him and his department for the glitch in the software recently deployed by the Union Commercial Bank, the largest financial institution in India. The thing is, he had warned the bosses something like this might happen.
“If you give us just 2 weeks to do testing, I cannot guarantee anything!” he had said in the meeting.
But the company had been eager to please the client, who had already frozen the launch, on a date which suited the the Honourable Finance Minister. So, Shyam Sunder had been overruled and the irony was, it was he facing the bloody consequences. He could feel the onset of a migraine, it was time to head home.
An hour later, Shyam Sunder was in his favourite armchair, with an ice-pack on his head. His younger son Rajesh knew, it was best to leave papa alone for a while. Out of the corner of his eye, Shyam could see the older one, Suresh, deeply absorbed in drawing something. Just looking at the boy filled the father’s heart with overwhelming affection, mingled with dread.
Suresh would be 16 years old this summer. Shyam still remembered the thrill he felt when the little one was born, in the midst of the Y2K problem. Which consumed all his days and nights as a junior software engineer. Holding the little baby when he came home at 1 am was the best form of stress release he could have asked for. But everything changed, when Suresh was 3 years old.
“I’m sorry, your son has not reached the normal milestones,” said the doctor. “He may be autistic.”
When the diagnosis was confirmed – Asperger’s Syndrome – both Shyam and his wife Asha, were in shock. How could this happen to them? Asha kept agonising, had she done something wrong, during pregnancy? But as they read up more and more online, they realised – it was the genetic lottery at play. And they were not alone, there were so many parents in the same boat.
Joining a support group was the first step towards acceptance. Whatever the world might label the child, he was not stupid. If you mentioned a date, say August 19, 1999, he could tell you, almost instantly, which day of the week it was (Thursday). His secret superpower was reciting schedules of all long-distance trains originating from Bangalore. Which never failed to amaze…
But what use were these skills in the real world? He had an education – thanks to special schooling – but further prospects looked bleak. One evening, when Shyam was feeling particularly low, his younger son, Rajesh came up to him. Don’t worry, appa, he said, I will be there to look after Suresh. Tears welled up in Shyam’s eyes.
“We are blessed to have these two wonderful boys,” he said to Asha. Each special in his own way.
The morning after the migraine, Shyam woke up early, feeling fresh. A new day was always a chance for a new beginning.
As he waited for his breakfast, his eyes fell on a piece of paper. It was the drawing Suresh had been working on, with full concentration. A series of boxes with some numbers on it. It looked familar… it was a page from a technical manual he had been reading. Reproduced painstakingly, exactly, with 99% precision.
Shyam Sunder Addepalli felt a punch in the gut. Who was to say his son was handicapped?
This was something he could no longer accept.
For if a father does not believe in his son, who will?
World Economic Forum 2025
Shyam Sunder is addressing a galaxy of world leaders, on the potential of autistic individuals which society is slowly coming to understand.
“The software testers my company trains from the autism spectrum are the most focussed, productive and loyal workers you can ever ask for.”
Sitting in the audience, Bill Gates nodded in agreement.
A father, and his son, glowed with happiness. The future looked bright.
This story was inspired by a real-life organisation called Specialisterne, a Danish social innovation company. Sharing a short video for those curious to know more!