The Mind Tree
|Author||Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay|
The Mind Tree: A Miraculous Child Breaks the Silence of Autism is a book of the writings from a nonverbal, severely autistic boy, Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay first published in 2003. Written at the ages of eight and eleven, The Mind Tree is an autobiographical account of Tito's view of the world and how autism has affected his ability to function within it.
Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay was born in Bangalore, India, in 1989, and had been diagnosed at the age of three with low-functioning, or severe, autism. His mother, Soma Mukhopadhyay, first noticed that her son was experiencing developmental delays at the age of nine months. Tito had trouble responding socially like other toddlers and was not progressing through typical developmental milestones such as responding to social cues, walking, or talking. These developmental delays led Tito and his mother to many doctors and diagnoses, but without luck, until Tito saw a psychiatrist and was finally diagnosed with low-functioning autism at the age of three. Soma responded to the diagnosis by exposing Tito to suitable toys that would keep his mind entertained and connected to reality. Soma, sacrificing her marriage and career as a chemist, became Tito's sole influencer and teacher with the help of other therapists. Noticing her son's interest in numbers, Soma teaches Tito the principles of mathematics which he enjoys thoroughly. Math, for Tito, was the first time he felt connected to reality and he began seeing the stories each curve and pattern of a number told, creating this bridge between fiction and reality. Tito began to create stories for everything he came across, pushing the limits of his imagination. A couple months later, Soma taught her son to write by tying a pencil to his hand and guiding his hand across a page continuously, and soon after, Tito was composing poetry all on his own. At the age of eight, Tito writes the first half of The Mind Tree "The Voice of Silence" with the assistance of his mother. Then, at the age of eleven, Tito finishes his book with "Beyond the Silence."
The first two parts of the book account for Tito's experiences throughout his childhood and the ways in which he understands the world. The next two sections are composed of fictional short stories written by Tito prior to the age of eleven and exist as fabrications of Tito's thoughts. They are Tito's way of expressing his reality with others in a language that can be understood despite the barrier his autism presents. Finally, the last section is a short compilation of Tito's poems that he decided to include to bring his writing together.
The Voice of Silence
This first section of The Mind Tree, "The Voice of Silence" was written when Tito was eight years old. Tito takes on a third person point of view when referring to himself, possibly to establish the idea that he does not feel connected to his own body. He feels that he is all spirit and no body. Tito introduces himself first by discussing the ways in which other people see him. He acknowledges the ways in which others look at him and speak of him, how they think he is odd, and how he embarrasses others. Although young and socially unresponsive, Tito has a complete understanding of the perspective of others. This notion introduces a new idea of autism and the ways in which the world can perceive it. Tito narrates the important events of his life and the obstacles that coupled his autism. He begins with an incident that occurred at his grandfather's funeral in which he crawls into the coffin alongside his deceased grandfather. The whispers and horror on the faces around him did not go unnoticed. This marked the very first time that Tito becomes wary of the judgements exuded by others and the realization that he was not like everyone else. Tito accounts for the first time he received the diagnosis "Autism" and how it carried no meaning for him, but it brought light to his parent's faces to finally have an answer. A recurring expression that Tito relates is that there exists a disconnect between his mind and his body and he knows the behavior that is expected of him by society, however, he does not know how to perform these said behaviors. His autism produces a disconnect between himself and the external world. Following his diagnosis, his mother Soma begins to teach him assuming that he is just as capable as the other children his age. Soma, noticing her son's interest in numbers, initially teaches Tito mathematics and the relationships between numbers. Following the success of this lesson, Soma finds herself inspired and empowered. She begins teaching Tito to tell stories by using an alphabet board that she constructed to help Tito communicate in his own way. Tito recounts the time his mother brought him to a doctor in order to find more help in dealing with his condition. The doctors insist that can be done to improve Tito's development past his nonverbal tendencies. Soma, unsatisfied with this outcome, returns home even more inspired. She teaches Tito to write by tying a pencil to Tito's hand and guiding it along a paper until Tito eventually got the hang of it and could hold the pencil and write with the assistance of a stencil provided by his mother. Shortly after, Tito began with his first therapist Dr. Prathibha Karanth, or as Tito called her " Kaki". Dr. Karanth remains an important figure in Tito's life being the first person, other than his mother, that could make him feel comfortable and understood. Dr. Karanth enacts a stringent philosophy in which her patients are to be treated as ordinary human beings and not according to the disorder they carry. This attitude helped Tito from getting discouraged or distracted and kept him focused on progress. Soon, at the age of five, Tito was able to compose entire poems.
Burning quietly in the heart
Where quiet emotions lay
My love burnt with so strong glow,
The reason perhaps I can't say.
Inspired by the appraisal his writing has received, Tito begins to take initiative and tries to be more independent, soon acquiring the skills necessary to feed and dress himself. Days before his seventh birthday, Soma entices Tito to attempt speech as a surprise for Kaki and his father. She sits Tito down and holds up a glass of water. She tells Tito to use his voice to ask for the glass of water. Tito explains that he cannot find his voice. Soma, with no intention of giving up, delivers a firm push to his back forcing a grunt from Tito's mouth. From there, the two continued to execute this method intending to assist Tito in improving his verbal communication.
Beyond the Silence
When Tito turns eleven, he finishes the book he started with the section titled "Beyond the Silence." Through his writing and with a switch to first person, Tito expresses how much he feels he has changed and grown into his body. This section focuses on the struggles faced by Tito and his mother during their search for a school that was willing to accept such a severely autistic child. Finally, Tito is welcomed into his very first school, the Spastic Society of Karanataka. His paraprofessional while in attendance of the school, Purnima Rao, became an influential figure on Tito's writing. Purnima Rao worked tirelessly to correct Tito's handwriting and to improve his vocabulary. At this point, Soma was no longer Tito's sole teacher and was able to share her responsibilities with other professionals to educate Tito and help him grow. To close off this section, Tito looks back on when he had written "Voice of Silence" and how life continues on with a continuous flow of ideas to add on.
All Through the Rainbow Path
"All Through the Rainbow Path" is a compilation of Tito's stories revealing the thoughts kept within his mind. Tito conjures up the 29 fictional stories featured each with their own fictional characters and a central theme on colors and the stories they carry. In the opening, it is disclosed that everything written remains completely imaginary, however, parallels can be drawn from every recurring themes such as being misunderstood, nature's silence, his relationship with God, his connection to his Indian culture, societal expectations of him, feelings of transparency, the disparity he feels between his mind and body, death, and suicide.
The Mind Tree
"The Mind Tree" is composed of eighteen stories centered on the idea of Tito as a massive tree, as the "mind tree." This tree is responsible for providing for all that come to it for comfort or nourishment. Tito reveals his need to contribute to society and an all too human desire to help others and to feel needed himself.
Poems from Tito's Story
This section is composed of eleven short poems about events in Tito's life and the feelings coupled with those events. Tito again discusses his feelings of being judged and ostracized from society and his relationship with God. Tito writes that he feels he may be a product of divine boredom. He writes of his walks with his mother and their invitation to the United States and his identity as the "mind tree".
- Soma Mukhopadhyay is Tito's mother and the one responsible for teaching him to read and write. Soma created a new method for teaching autistic children, the Rapid Prompting Method, granting her national recognition and helping autistic children and their parents all across the nation.
- Dr. Prathibha "Kaki" Karanth is a speech language pathologist and writer. Dr. Karanth, or as Tito called her "Kaki", was Tito's therapist for most of his life taking on the same strict position as his mother Soma. Dr. Karanth was the first person in Tito's life other than his mother to grant him comfort and make him feel understood, thereby, encouraging his self expression and learning.
- Roopa Rao was Tito's speech therapist and the first person to inspire Tito's poetry at the age of five.
- Shantala was another one of Tito's therapist. Showing him compassion and kindness, Shantala encouraged Tito to try to be more independent and taught him to dress and feed himself.
- Purnima Rao was Tito's paraprofessional at his first school, the Spastic Society of Karanataka. Purnima Rao corrected Tito's handwriting and reinforced Tito's education by helping him to feel comfortable in this new setting.
- Ms. Shubhangi Dhuru was Tito's occupational therapist helping him to better understand his body in space and lessen the effects of his autotopagnosia.
More by Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay
- Beyond the Silence: My Life, the World, and Autism (2000)
- The Gold of the Sunbeams: And Other Stories (2005)
- Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone (2005)
- How Can I Talk If My Lips Don't Move: Inside My Autistic Mind (2008)
- I'm Not a Poet But I Write Poetry: Poems from My Autistic Mind (2012)
- Plankton Dreams: What I Learned in Special Ed (2015)