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Sidharth Chandran: ‘An Unspoken Story’

The 32-year-old’s debut book is an important insight into life as a non-verbal Autistic man.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

Understanding and supporting neurodiversity and creating an equitable future for the Autistic community is something to work towards every day. Sidharth Chandran is one such ‘soldier for change’, sharing his insights and experiences to advocate for those living with Complex Communication Needs.

Having spent his early years without a formal means of communication, the Sydney-based Sidharth, 32, found his voice writing poems and articles, expressing perceptively and lucidly what it means to be, in his words, ‘cocooned in autism’.

His debut book An Unspoken Story details his own experience with Complex Communication Needs, breaking open misconceptions and challenging those on ‘Planet Normal’ to reframe their views on neurodiversity.

We caught up with Sidharth to learn more about An Unspoken Story, what writing means to him, and his plans following the book’s launch in May.

Book cover for "An Unspoken Story"
Cover art for ‘An Unspoken Story’ by Sidharth Chandran. (Source: Books Online Australia.)

Indian Link: Congrats on the book! How long did it take you to write it, and what was that process like? 

Sidharth Chandran: Thank you. I love to write. If I had my way, I would have written several books.

It took me many years to complete this book as the process was discontinuous, and not easy because I required more support. My mother or support workers had to work with me. It was frustrating as typing to communicate is hard.

Tell us more about the book – what do you cover in it? 

Sidharth Chandran: The book is about my life and experience with severe Autism. I not only cover my feelings but also discuss the lack of opportunities to develop my skills. It will take the readers into my world, showing them what it is like to be a man who cannot speak and whose vision of the world is shaped by his communication challenges.

Sidharth Chandran is typing on his keyboard. It is a AAC keyboard, and the letters are big.
Sidharth was supported by his mother and support worker to help type the book. (Source: Supplied)

What made you write this book? What do you hope to leave readers with? 

Sidharth Chandran: I’m most interested in helping people to understand what it is like to be communication challenged. Lack of speech and behaviour difference do not mean lack of intelligence or feeling.

How has writing helped you find your voice? 

Sidharth Chandran: Being an autistic person, I can’t speak as others who are not autistic do. So, writing has helped me a lot. It is the one method that I use to communicate. It has helped me to express feeling and communicate with others. It helps me to self-organise. If I was not able to write, my frustration would be greater.

What’s a common misconception that people have about you? 

Sidharth Chandran: ‘People with Autism don’t have feeling or empathy.’ This is simply not true. Every autistic person expresses their emotion differently. I expressed my feelings through typing, through some ritualistic behaviours and a few acting-out behaviours. Through my typed messages I have been able to let my support circle know that I experience the full range of feelings and my thought processes are coherent.

Another misconception is people think I might hurt them, so they try to stay away. I think people judge me quickly by just looking at me.

A poem on a sticky note, and a photo of Sid.
Sidharth’s poems have been published in AGOSCI’s newsletters. (Source AGOSCI’s InFocus, Summer 2018)

What’s your experience growing up in the Indian community as a man with autism? Do you feel supported? Do you feel the community understand your needs? 

Sidharth Chandran: The short answer is ‘No’. They don’t understand my needs, and I didn’t get enough support from the Indian community.

The Indian community, like many other communities has diverse perspectives. However, they lack awareness and understanding of autism. This makes it difficult to get the appropriate support, acceptance, and inclusion.

What do you think we can do to better support people with Complex Communication Needs? 

Sidharth Chandran: I’m not entirely sure that I have the answer.

People with complex communication will have difficulty in speaking. To help them the community needs to use alternative forms of communication. This may include using sign language, visual board and other Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools. One needs to be patient and attentive because they might need more time to communicate.

Sid waters his plants at home.
Sidharth at home. (Source: Supplied)

What are you planning to do next?

Sidharth Chandran: I am working on a website blog as of now. I’ll probably write more about my view of what changes need to take place for the world to be a good place for everyone. In my view the only way to build a good world is to learn that we are all the same.

I’m sure that the next few months will have many more opportunities to address these issues of awareness, understanding and acceptance that the community needs to face. I’ll be self-advocating. I’ve been using my writing to express my views.

I’ll try again in another book to speak about the technology we use to help us (like speech generating devices). I think that it is moribund. A lot more research to make communication devices meet the needs of the autistic population needs to take place.

An Unspoken Story is available to order now in Australia and overseas as both print and e-book.

READ ALSO: Are you an autism parent? Arm yourself with knowledge

Lakshmi Ganapathy
Lakshmi Ganapathy
Lakshmi Ganapathy is an emerging journalist and theatre-maker based in Melbourne.

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