Navigating neurodiversity: A father and son’s inspiring journey
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“Har roj vanilla ice cream milega, kisko maza aayega? You want some chocolate sauce, you want some sprinkles. And that’s what I think neurodiversity does. It adds that thoda tadka.”
There’s a certain joy that seeps through when you speak with Ashiish V Patil.
Ashiish is a writer, producer, director, Ex-CEO MTV India, Ex-Head of Youth Films, Talent, Digital Originals at Yash Raj Films, and an author.
He is also the winner of the Cannes Grand Prix Glass Lion 2016.
And most recently, Ashiish is passionate about promoting mental health after being diagnosed with autism at 50. His book, “Goldiboy and the Three Apes,” tells a heartfelt story about a neurodivergent boy finding his place in the world.
Discovering one’s purpose can be a challenging process, but Ashiish’s journey shows us the power of embracing acceptance, understanding, and personal growth. Diagnosed with autism at the age of 50, Ashiish is now an inspiration to many, especially as he shares his experiences alongside his son, Risshan, who lives with autism. Ashiish’s story showcases resilience, understanding, and the transformative power of love.
MyndStories chatted with Ashiish about the nuances of neurodiversity.
Could you briefly describe your journey from the early days of your career and your evolution of roles as a writer, producer, director, and author?
I was born into a simple middle-class family, a blend of Gujarati and Maharashtrian cultures, and discovered my passion for writing during my school days. In college, I was introduced to a universe of extracurricular activities, from editing the college magazine to writing and performing in college plays. It was also during this time that I met the love of my life, my future wife. After graduation, I jumped into the advertising world and gradually transitioned into strategy. This brought me closer to my love for filmmaking.
MTV was still in its nascent stages in India back then, and I got to explore so much, from heading marketing to immersing myself in programming, production, and artist relations. I collaborated with Yash Raj Films, tapping into the insights of Aditya Chopra. My stint with YRF was a masterclass in filmmaking and brand partnerships, and soon, I began working independently. I also produced a lot of videos on social causes and mental health on YouTube. Then Covid-19 happened, and the lockdown forced me to pen down my thoughts.
The result was “Goldiboy and the Three Apes,” my passion project. I have poured my soul into every detail, from the book’s design to its themes, to ensure it resonated deeply with its readers. And I found this lovely artist from Noida, Nikita Modi Biswas. She’s an arts teacher, supremely talented and her illustrations for Goldie boy were brilliant.
You say you were diagnosed with autism at 50. How did the diagnosis impact your understanding of yourself? What were some of the challenges you faced, and how did you navigate through them?
It’s an interesting thing. People say, like father, like son, but in my case, it was the reverse. Thanks to Risshan, I got exposed to this magical world of neurodiversity and autism. Watching Risshan live his life so authentically made me unmask physically, literally, and figuratively to be my true self. He gave me the confidence to go out there and complete a formal assessment. It’s not like I needed a label, just clarity. So, that’s why I contacted this wonderful group called Powered by Autistics.
Once I got my results, it freed me up to understand myself a little better. Given my background in the media entertainment business, there were a lot of expectations. With this, it felt okay to turn down a few of these things, cope with them differently, or eject early and give myself room.
Coming to challenges, initially, at some level, I felt a sense of guilt. Did I pass it on to Risshan? Then I realized I was going down a strange rabbit hole and shouldn’t do that. Autism helps me perceive the world differently, making me more creative and unfiltered.
Initially, when Risshan was diagnosed, it was a phase of confusion. Then it transitioned to anger – why me? Then to guilt, shame, frustration, acknowledgment, and eventually acceptance.
Thankfully, we are now at a stage where it’s not just about acceptance but celebration. I would have been a very different person if not for Risshan and my own assessment. It made me a better person, and I appreciate the smaller things in life. Wo bhagwan ek darwaza bandh karta hai, chaar khidki khol deta hai. It’s like that, right? I can’t imagine a life or a world without it, frankly. I mean, it would be so boring. That’s the magic of diversity, right?
How has being an “Autism Dad” shaped your perspective on parenting? How do you handle stigmas or lack of awareness regarding this?
I think some of these things fundamentally come from a lack of awareness.
When you think about it, the minute you put in invisible disabilities like autism, dyslexia, and ADHD, the data point is 37.5% of the world. That’s more than every third person. It’s very likely that you know someone with autism, and you don’t even know it. And I think you always fear what you don’t know and discriminate against things you don’t understand.
People fear differences. Things are much better now, but there is still a long way to go.
There’s a lot of stigma, too, with neurodiversity. People think you have to cure it. I’d say, no, it’s not that. It’s just you’re on an Android; he’s on an iOS. One isn’t superior to the other.
We’ve always been open, unembarrassed about Risshan.
Once, we were on a road trip across Spiti Valley, and we had appointed a driver. We explained Risshan’s neurodivergence to him. Initially, he didn’t get it, but after a week, they became buddies, singing songs together.
So I think people are open to accepting once they understand things better.
Things are getting better now in terms of mental health, but what steps do you think we need to take to increase awareness and acceptance of neurodiversity?
Step one is to add it to the curriculum early on.
Consciously go and seek out resources. If you’re already at a certain point, it’s never too late to learn. I think all of us should have a permanent learner’s license. Start following neurodivergent creators.
One of the biggest challenges in neurodiversity is the lack of community and companionship.
Risshan is a bright kid with a high IQ, but he doesn’t have friends.
So make friends with them and I promise you will become a better person. Spend time with people from the community, and it will help you understand yourself better. It will teach you tolerance. It will teach you patience.
Call out when something is not right, especially in the media and entertainment industry, where neurodivergence is either underrepresented or misrepresented.
I think we owe it to ourselves and the world to take these steps. Special school hoti hai, special world toh nahi hai.
We don’t live in a bubble. We all have to live together.
Ashiish, you seem like a person who’s so full of life and joy. But I’m sure you have your low days and low moments. So, what are your coping strategies to lift yourself up?
You need to have a great support system. Therapy saved my life. But therapy is like finding the right partner. You’ve got to find the right therapist who gets you.
Buddhism helped me a lot. The whole principle of ‘You got to fix things yourself, no one else is going to come, and the fact that you can fix things no matter what has happened’ appealed to me. It gave me the clarity, confidence, and courage which I needed at that point in my life. So my advice is to find your thing. I tried everything and finally found my groove with a mix of a few things.
The third is meditation. Someone introduced me to this beautiful meditation called the Ho’oponopono meditation. I love the simplicity of it, and I do it every day.
A gratitude practice is also essential for every person to remind themselves that they’re privileged and lucky no matter what.
I also check in with myself if I am feeling off. Then I stop, take a break, walk, go for a swim, and physically burn it off. I also journal as writing is easier than being able to express myself verbally.
These things have truly helped me.
What advice would you like to give to people who are living with mental challenges, neurodivergence, and their caregivers?
There are two sets of people: neurodivergent and caregivers.
Step one is to recognize and acknowledge the problem. Only when you recognize and acknowledge a problem can you resolve it.
Also, don’t try to fix everything yourself. You can’t. There’s absolutely no harm in seeking and getting help.
Conditions like autism can be hard on the person and the caregiver. Like they say on flights – Please wear your mask first. Take care of yourself first. If you can’t take care of your own health, you won’t be able to help anyone else as a caregiver.
Be selfish, it’s the most selfless thing you can do. And trust that it will get better.
Nayi Disha – A non-profit organization that provides peer support to families affected by developmental differences such as Autism and Down Syndrome,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALJ3CFRRZpo&pp=ygUObmV1cm9kaXZlcnNpdHk%3D
Action for Autism – Non-profit that does a ton of things including assessments, education, early intervention, research
Ummeed – Specialized care for most developmental disabilities and works on training, advocacy, school outreach programs.
Much Much Spectrum – An inclusive storytelling community set up by a neurodivergent couple.
Forum for Autism – A public trust, set up by parents with activities including talent showcases, exhibitions, facilities for diagnosis, education, and training.
As an interview, the content in this story is not verified by our Expert Reviewers. This is a personal account of lived experience. Please check resources and support for autism.