Dubai: He loves balloons so much that the first word Dhiren Bhatia learned as a baby was “bam”, which to him meant balloon. Today, Dubai-based Bhatia is 20 years old and has been diagnosed with autism. He uses his passion for balloons to help his mother with the huge medical bills she faces every month for his treatment.
“He was so passionate about balloon decor that he taught himself how to do it. At malls and events he would observe balloon vendors and learn the art,” said Neelam Bhatia, Dhiren’s mother. “Balloon decorations made my child happy,” she said
“We live in a small studio flat and every time there was a festival or a national holiday, Dhiren would practise, inflate and decorate the house with balloons,” she added.
A couple of years ago, during an exhibition, a person who came to know of Dhiren's passion for balloon decor, suggested to his mother that they should utilise this talent. With the help of a few acquaintances and a few posters and flyers later, Dhiren was ready to take up the challenge.
Until now he has decorated between 15-20 small scale events.
Other than autism, Dhiren also suffers from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Optic glioma (tumour in both his optic nerves), and a Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), a genetic disorder of the nervous system, due to which he has tumours all over his body.
Single mother's struggle
His mother Neelam Bhatia came to Dubai over 20 years ago. Her son was born and brought up in Dubai. She told Gulf News, “I am a single mum. When Dhiren was just five months old, we found out that he would have special needs. At that time, Dhiren’s father left us since he didn’t want to take up the responsibility of an ill child and didn’t want to spend money on his medical, schooling and other expenses.”
Shouldering the responsibility alone, Neelam juggled work, Dhiren’s treatment, and other things. As he grew, so did the medical issues and bills. Every month they end up paying at least Dh4,000 in medical bills. Neelam added, “There are other therapy sessions I need but can’t afford, some cost up to Dh200 per hour.”
“Initially, I was not aware that his condition was going to affect his entire body,” she added. “Doctors have warned us that NF1 could also lead to cancer. Scans show that he has many tumors in his body. Just last year we spent Dh18,000 on scans. Dhiren needs regular MRI scans too, every three to six months. There are treatments available in the US and in European countries. I hope someday I am able to take him there before it’s too late.”
Every penny counts
Dhiren’s balloon decor would not earn them much, but in their current situation, every penny counts as help. Neelam said to Gulf News, “Some people who call us for events don’t want to pay the amount we charge. It is not an exorbitant rate, in fact, it is much less compared to what professional decorators charge for similar setups. Our charges barely cover transportation and material cost. I often end up having to explain to the clients that the small profit we hope to make is only to add to Dhiren’s medical treatment.”
She hopes to find a way to deal with the piling medical bills.
A 2017 study revealed that prevalence of autism is steadily rising in the UAE, as per cases registered at the Dubai Autism Centre. The study showed that about two-thirds of autism cases in Dubai are among the expatriate population.
Rarely addressed, social insensitivity is among the many challenges faced by families of children with autism. And, Neelam Bhatia said, “He doesn’t have friends, that is the thing, children of determination don’t have any friends. It is a sad situation.”
If all goes well for the 20-year-old, who does vocational training at Rashid Center for People of Determination, he wants to pursue an artistic career. Neelam Bhatia added, “He has a very good memory. Right now he is studying Photoshop and printing. They print mugs, t-shirts and so on. He likes to make brochures and design magazines. He wants to work for a printing company.”
Hoping to find a mentor or a professional decorator to train him, Neelam said to Gulf News, “Right now he only has me to support him. I am not artistic and I don’t know anything about balloon decor. I hope a professional would help him and guide him better and perhaps take him on board to train him so he improves. I would love for him to socialise and be independent.”