Nurturing Dreams: Kolkata Couple's Vision for India's First Autism Center Township

Kalpesh, son of Suresh Kumar Somani and Namita Somani, based in Kolkata, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a young child. Growing up, he faced several developmental challenges, including difficulties with speech, cognition, behaviour and social interactions. Like most parents new to dealing with autism, the couple struggled in their initial years despite being financially well-off. They travelled extensively across India and overseas to find interventions that could help improve Kalpesh's condition.

Despite consultations with numerous specialists, they found limited customised therapy options. Support infrastructure equipped to handle developmental disorders was scarce. The Somanis also faced judgements from extended family members and friends who lacked awareness of why Kalpesh behaved oddly or could not meet typical child milestones. Feeling isolated, the couple started questioning what would happen to their son once they were no longer alive to care for him. This fear of the future plagued them.

Establishing the Amrit Somani Memorial Center

Motivated to make a broader difference, the couple started an organisation in 2009 called the Amrit Somani Memorial Center (ASMC) in Kolkata to offer support services to individuals with ASD. They learned about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapies through interactions at two international autism conferences in Kolkata. The emphasis was on enabling people on the spectrum to gain skills for leading dignified lives.

Beginning with just four children in a couple of rooms, the ASMC now serves 40 clients at a time, employing 40 trained therapists across facilities, including a vocational centre and daycare. The cumulative experience gave the couple valuable insights into the gaps faced by people with autism in accessing education, gaining employment, receiving medical care and finding housing. They realised the needs were complex and interconnected, requiring integrated planning at a broader system level.

Conceiving the India Autism Center

Building on the ASMC's decade-long experience, the couple assembled experts to design a first-of-its-kind township tailored for the autism community. Named the India Autism Center (IAC), the vision was to create a mini-town that served as a one-stop campus for evidence-based autism interventions encompassing the entire spectrum of necessity – from therapies to schools to jobs to residential communities to medical care.

The main aim is to improve life quality and outcomes for people with ASD while accelerating research and propagating best practices through training caregivers. The IAC model stands to impact over 2 million individuals with autism across India, struggling with a lack of quality support systems. The ambitious nation-building initiative also aligns with the needs of neurodiversity and inclusion.

Strategic Location

A prime 52-acre plot of land was acquired for the IAC about 17 km from IIM Calcutta in Shirakole, West Bengal. The site's strategic location, accessibility and scope for a customised township made it an ideal choice. Conceptualised to be one of the most significant such autism projects in India, the centre has been designed to eventually house 350 residents while also having the capacity to offer daycare facilities for about 250 additional clients detected with ASD.

Inclusive Infrastructure & Facilities

Significant investments are being made to construct facilities and infrastructure tailored to meet sensory, social, recreational, skill-building, medical and personal requirements of both high- and low-support autistic clients, including children and adults. Facilities being built include:

  • Residential units equipped to help autistic clients with varying levels of independence
  • Special education schooling from primary to high school
  • Vocational training centres for developing employable trades
  • Intervention services ranging from ABA to speech therapy
  • Outdoor amenities like sports, gardens and sensory areas
  • Medical centre with facilities for diagnosis, evaluations and more
  • Caregiver and staff training institute
  • Research centre focused on advancing autism science
  • This integrated township model aims to improve continuity of services while also creating cost efficiencies in care delivery. Developing comprehensive expertise in one centre is also expected to benefit the broader ecosystem of professionals, parents and institutes working with people with developmental disabilities.

    Implementation Timelines

    Construction and development of the entire IAC township is slated to be completed over the next 3-4 years. Building the centre in gradual phases allows for fine-tuning interventions and accommodations based on emerging insights. The vocational centre has already been set up in newly acquired premises and will relocate when the IAC is ready.

    Global & Local Partnerships

    Recognizing the immense scope of this project, partnerships have been forged between international experts and Indian institutes to collaborate on areas like program design, infrastructure planning, staff training and more. These connections allow for integrating globally accredited best practices while customising for local contexts. Efforts are underway to enter academic relationships with global universities renowned for their autism research contributions.

    Funding Sources & Sustainability Model

    The not-for-profit IAC township is promoted by Suresh, who serves as Managing Trustee and oversees fundraising. Major capital expenses are supported via corporate social responsibility grants, including from the Ratnabali Group, where Suresh is the Joint Managing Director. The operational budget is sustained through fees along with more donation drives. Building operations in phases aid financial planning.

    The promoters also have plans to replicate and potentially franchise the model across India once successful proof of concept is demonstrated in Kolkata. This shall expand much-needed services while making the IAC sustainable in the long run. Their vision is to develop hundreds of such dedicated autism centres nationwide.

    Impact Created

    Through their personal experience with their son Kalpesh, Suresh Kumar Somani and Namita Somani recognized the lack of resources and support available in India for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and their families. Driven to make a difference, they founded the Amrit Somani Memorial Center in 2009 to provide therapies and services focused on enabling people with autism to lead fulfilling lives with dignity.

    Over the past decade, the centre has grown from serving just four children to supporting the needs of 50 people with autism ranging from ages 3 to 27. Encouraged by this success, the couple conceived an ambitious plan to create India's first autism township - the India Autism Center. Designed to be a one-stop integrated facility catering to the residential, educational, vocational, healthcare and research needs of people across the autism spectrum, the 52-acre centre aims to uplift hundreds of lives when fully operational.

    Besides developing in-house expertise in autism interventions, the initiative's big-picture focus is on propagating best practices and models of care across India to build inclusive ecosystems that embrace neurodiversity. Funded majorly through CSR grants and fees, the non-profit township stands to give the country's two million+ citizens with autism and their families a ray of hope for a life of meaning and dignity.

    Suresh and Namita's struggle demonstrates how the dream to build a better world for people with disabilities can manifest in ambitious action plans that uplift entire communities. Driven by compassion and resilience in the face of challenges, the couple's vision for India's first autism township seeks to transform limiting beliefs about neurodiverse capabilities and catalyse systemic change nationwide.


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