Sherab Lhamo

At 21 years old, Sidart Pradhan navigates the world with a unique perspective. Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at the age of three, Sidart’s journey has been marked by challenges and triumphs. Despite communication hurdles, he demonstrates remarkable skills and a passion for Bhutanese history, flags, and printed teacups.

Concerned that Sidart hadn’t spoken by the age of three, his parents took him to Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu. The doctor noticed a problem but couldn’t identify it. A doctor from the USA, present in Thimphu at that time, checked and confirmed that Sidart had autism.

Autism or ASD is a developmental difference that affects how people communicate and interact with the world around them. It’s akin to having a unique brain that works differently than most people. Not every person with autism is the same; some require a lot of support, while others need little.

The doctor recommended enrolling Sidart in a school that provided support for his special needs. Seven-year-old Sidart joined Changangkha Middle Secondary School. There he showed immediate improvement – responding and asking questions. Sidart spent 11 years in the school, learning basic English, Mathematics, Dzongkha, drawing, and engaging in extracurricular activities.

Sidart is the youngest in his family. He has a 23-year-old brother.

According to his father, Sidart would point at things if he needed one but wouldn’t talk. Today, he can answer and understand but finds it difficult to respond when asked a question. When he reads a book, it’s challenging for him to read unfamiliar words, so he skips them.

His parents said that Sidart loves Bhutanese history, learned mostly from watching TV programmes. He can name all the Cabinet ministers.

With support from the Bhutan Foundation, Sidart has spent the past two years learning to produce and edit audio-visual materials at Athang Training Academy in Thimphu.

“He really enjoys going to the Academy,” said Ashok, Sidart’s father. On other days, he mostly spends time watching television or pursuing his hobby of collecting printed teacups, of which he has a good collection in his room.

Ashok said that Sidart throws tantrums if he is not allowed to buy things he wants, leading to outbursts like throwing things, breaking windows, or even biting his own fingers.

Sidart also collects national flags, pictures, and books featuring the Kings of Bhutan, and badges dedicated to the monarch. According to his mother, Pabitra Maya Pradhan, Sidart has been collecting them since his school days.

Sidart admires people in uniform and presents a salute immediately. However, he sometimes upsets people by giving them a random hug. The parents have to apologise and explain his condition.

Despite his circumstances, Sidart has achieved much in life, evident from the various certificates of achievements he has collected over the years. His parents are proud of him and are committed to enabling him to become more independent.

Sidart participated in his first election this year, in his village in Dagana, alongside his parents.

“We want to open a grocery shop for him,” says Ashok.

But Sidart wants to be prime minister.