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It could be a miracle that went unnoticed for a couple of years, say the parents of a nine-year-old autistic child who is showing an extraordinary ability to read her mother’s mind.
Indian girl Nandana’s parents said they noticed the “unusual coincidence” of her reactions to her mother’s thoughts a few months ago. However, when they realised that it was more than a mere coincidence, they could recollect that the child had begun exhibiting the behaviour a couple of years back.
“We don’t know how this is happening. But, she can feel my emotions and read my thoughts,” said Nandana’s mother, Sandhya.
“I used to feel strange when she would come to me and say the name of the food I was thinking of preparing for her. The same way, if my husband and I had decided to take her somewhere, she would know about it without being told about it and would start reacting to it.”
Sandhya said the understanding power of the child, who was found to be autistic when she was one and a half years old, saw drastic changes in the last couple of years.
“Initially, it was very difficult for me to teach her even the concept of some objects. I had to really struggle to make her understand a cup is a cup. It took about a month for her to grasp it. But, these days it is very easy to make her learn something. She is good at Maths. But sometimes I feel when she does her class work it is because I am thinking about it that she is able to do it so fast.”
Sandhya is not like an ordinary mother looking after a child with special needs. In two years, after she realised her daughter was autistic, she did a certificate course in Applied Behaviour Analysis and a post-graduate diploma in Community-Based Rehabilitation from Bangalore University in India. She is also the shadow teacher of Nandana, a grade 3 student in a mainstream school in Sharjah, which Sandhya says has extended very good support to her daughter.
Nandana was initially diagnosed as a highly functioning child with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome (ADHD). During her routine clinical assessment sessions, she has shown very good improvement.
“Now I strongly doubt that it was because of my presence with her that she was doing very well during assessment in the past two-three years. She used to answer questions so intelligently that was not expected of a child with her disability level or of her age. I think it was because the answers were in my mind that she was able to do so.”
When Sandhya understood that her child was actually able to read her mind, she informed her husband, Unnikrishnan: “I couldn’t believe it myself when I started realising that it is true. But, Nandana is able to read only her mother’s mind, not mine,” he said.
However, the parents did not know how to prove this to the world. Even after going for speech therapy, Nandana has much difficulty in pronouncing words clearly and in sustaining attention. Because of the very reason, it would be difficult for an outsider to clearly decipher that what the child is saying is actually what the mother is thinking about.
“I taught her to type in the computer to tackle this. Now, if I prompt her to type what I am thinking of, she can do that. Sometimes there could be spelling mistakes and she cannot understand the concept of punctuation marks and the space bar. If I say space in my mind when she types the words, she might start typing the word ‘space’ instead of leaving a space between the words,” said Sandhya.
It was in January this year that Nandana learned to use the computer keyboard. By February end, the parents took her to a Child Guidance Clinic where she had received her treatment. A team of experts comprising a specialist psychiatrist, a specialist social worker and a special educator along with one nursing staff witnessed a demonstration of Nandana’s mind-reading skill.
Khaleej Times’ test
It was after this letter from Nandana’s father, Unnikrishnan, was received that Khaleej Times decided to visit the nine-year-old, to test her unique skill before revealing it to the world.
Sitting cross-legged on the sofa in the living room, Nandana showed no unfamiliarity to the KT reporter and photographer, as if she knew we would be visiting her. She was making some weird gestures with her hands and rocking herself in between. But when her father asked her to sit properly, the little girl with bright eyes and two side braids, obeyed at once.
When her mum asked her who this is, she said something that sounded close to the name of the reporter. Albeit with difficulty, we could also figure out that she did say something that sounded like the Khaleej Times. But we were not satisfied and convinced.
In our test, Sandhya was first given a note. It read “044050799 – the office number of Khaleej Times.” As soon as she read it in her mind, Sandhya sat with Nandana across a table. The computer was kept in such a way that the keyboard faced the daughter and the monitor faced the mother.
When her mother asked her to start typing, Nandana started keying in the numbers without even constantly looking at her mother. As she typed 044050799, it became evident to us that the child can actually read her mind! We were witnessing something unseen and unheard of.
Whenever Nandana’s pace slowed down, Sandhya had to prompt her saying type next.
The mother had already told us that Nandana doesn’t understand the concept of a leaving space between the words.
Because of that, we allowed Sandhya to press the space bar wherever it was necessary. In between, she also had to press backspace (with our permission) to delete any wrong spelling Nandana had typed.
When Nandana successfully completed the first test, we decided to try her telepathic skill. This time the note given to her mother read: “Can I have some warm water please?”
The result came out as a sentence without any space between the words and with some minor spelling mistakes in between. But, it was still as amazing as the first instance.
To determine how the child would react when the mother is away, we sent Nandana to the bedroom and asked Sandhya to think about an object. When she decided the object as “biscuit” and told us that, without letting Nandana hear it, we called Nandana to the living room. Sandhya was then sent to the bedroom.
When Nandana’s father Unnikrishnan asked her what the object was, the child was initially reluctant to say anything. Then her mother prompted her from inside, saying aloud, “say what it is Nandana.” Looking very shy, the child leaned on her father and started pronouncing the word slowly. “bis...ki..t,” she said.
Khaleej Times visited the child to see her unique ability, after receiving a copy of a letter from the specialist psychiatrist Dr Jeena Fiji who certified “witnessing the strength of Nandana to receive her mother’s thoughts, desires and intentions.”
The letter that came subsequent to a call from Unnikrishnan had not convinced us completely. However, we were left amazed and totally impressed when Nandana passed our tests with flying colours.
We spoke to a few experts working in the fields of psychology, neurology and autism to get their reactions on this peculiar phenomenon.
They have read about, heard of or have even seen autistic children and adults with savant skills like having photographic memory, playing music perfectly after hearing it just once, or doing complex mathematical calculations in one’s head. However, none had read or heard about the mind-reading capability that Nandana is exhibiting. After hearing about Nandana’s case, the experts suggested that studies be done to explore the cause and future benefits of the child’s unique skill.
The parents said they also wanted to do the same. But they are anxious and apprehensive, as well. “We want to know how it is possible for her to have this ability and how best we can make use of this for her future benefits or for others. That is the reason we approached Khaleej Times. But I don’t intend to affect my child by exposing her to various media, especially visual media,” said Unnikrishnan.
Sandhya said she was also worried if the child would lose the ability that she had received in recent years: “But, I believe we need to analyse it further.”
Nandana’s mind-reading skills
A team of experts at a Child Guidance Clinic in Sharjah last month witnessed nine-year-old Nandana’s ability to read her mother’s mind.
The specialist psychiatrist at Sunny Speciality Medical Centre in Sharjah, Dr Jeena Fiji, who headed the team, has certified witnessing “the strength of Nandana to read her mother’s thoughts, desires and intentions.”
In a letter certifying this, a copy of which is available with Khaleej Times, Dr Fiji has narrated Nandana’s case as follows.
Nandana was assessed at the Clinic in 2008 and is a case of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. She is undergoing continuous speech therapy and has shown quite an improvement on this front. However, Nandana still has difficulty with clarity words and in sustaining attention.
Nandana’s mother noticed that she has the ability to read her mother’s mind. The strength of the child was demonstrated at CGC on February 21. A team comprising specialist psychiatrist, specialist social worker and a specialist educator along with nursing staff witnessed this demonstration.
Nandana had come with her mother Sandhya Unnikrishnan. A poem of Grade 2 level was written and given to Sandhya. After her mother had read the poem in her mind, Nandana was asked to type in the laptop provided to her.
Nandana could type the entire poem without any prompt. A six digit number was also written and given to Sandhya, which too, Nandana could type after reading her mother’s mind.
Sandhya was given a written, one digit number which she glanced through and left the room. Nandana was asked to write the number and she could type down the same number, indicating her strength to read her mother’s mind even if her mother was not physically around her, Dr Fiji stated in the letter, wishing Nandana the best in life.
What the experts say
The Chairman of the Biological Psychiatry Section of the Indian Psychiatry Society (IPS) Dr Philip John was one of the experts Khaleej Times spoke with to comment on Nandana’s extraordinary ability to read her mother’s mind.
We chose him as the case had been referred to Dr John who is also a visiting consultant at the Child Guidance Clinic in Sharjah, where Nandana had received her treatment for autism.
“We see several autistic children with savant skills like unusual Mathematical skills, extraordinary memory about calendar days and dates. In such cases, they have access to their memory. In some people with schizophrenia, there is a symptom called “thought broadcast” wherein they believe their thoughts are known to others. It is not transmission of memory. In Nandana’s case, she has access to her mother’s memory and there is a transmission of memory, that too without a medium. This is the first time I am seeing a case like this. Here, we are talking about memory as a function which is why it is very surprising. This is a very rare phenomenon of transmission of memory without a medium.”
The veteran psychiatrist said Nandana’s could be a case of peculiar genetic memory which could be found only between the mother and child who are alive at the same time.
He said autism is all about lack of connectivity in the brain circuit and that is why he uses medication to improve autistic children’s connectivity: “We know high functioning autistic children can have better response. But, it is very much surprising that Nandana can connect with her mother’s thoughts and emotions and react to them.”
When briefed about Nandana’s special ability, clinical psychologist at Dubai Autism Centre, Urmi Mala Singh, said she cannot consider it as among the known savant skills, from what she heard. With the experience of two decades in mental health services and seven years exclusively with autistic children, Singh said she had not come across any such telepathic ability among any of the special needs children.
Savvy Kisani, mother of an autistic teen who also became a special educator like Nandana’s mother Sandhya, said she believed that some autistic children at times show certain extrasensory perceptions: “Though they cannot say, they can visualise that something is going to happen. My son Krishna had behaved very weirdly when my father was about to die. He would cry loudly and run into his grandfather’s room and bang his head on the door. My mother then said that probably it was time for my father to leave. Yes it was. So, I believe they can foresee things. But I don’t know about their telepathic ability to read someone else’s mind as you explained in this child’s case.”
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Push back your fatigue for a while, give them an earnest ear and say the two magical words: I understand