humans of leap — shreya jain

Shreya Jain is the founder of Reservoir — a digital platform that makes quality resources accessible to people with neurological differences like autism, ADHD, dyslexia and down’s syndrome. This is her story.

Written by Helené van Tonder

“When he was 2½ years old, my younger brother, Suvrat, came down with a fever. That’s when we started noticing some changes. He was more aloof, he wasn’t interacting with people as much, and his speech was deteriorating. My mom said: ‘I think this is a little more than just a child recovering from fever. This is something else.’ She was worried and wanted to get to the bottom of it, but she got a lot of backlash. People said: ‘You’re putting too much pressure on the child, just let him be. You’re acting crazy. You’re the one who needs help, not your child.’

We took him to doctors in Chandigarh, but I don’t think anyone knew what they were talking about. Eventually, one doctor said: ‘Oh, your child might have autism.’ I don’t think my mom had any idea what that meant.

My mom was redirected to a school in Delhi — Action for Autism — where she found help. A few months later, we came to terms with the fact that this is a lifelong condition — something we were all going to have to deal with. Suvrat and my mom moved to Delhi. My dad and I visited them on weekends. It was difficult, but we were all trying to make the best of the situation: doing what needed to be done, supporting each other.

After some time, Suvrat and my mom came back to Chandigarh. We tried to get him admitted to schools, but he was thrown out of multiple mainstream schools even though he was doing really well and loved going to school. I think everyone just found it extremely absurd — the principal, the staff, the other parents. That’s what happens if there’s no awareness.

Up until that point, we were thinking: ‘Yes, he is different, but so what? We will deal with it.’ But it really set us back when he was rejected again and again and again. We were forced to start thinking differently about things.”

“For my entire school life, I knew what I wanted to do: pharmaceuticals. My dad has a pharmaceutical company and I’ve always been inspired by the fact that his work makes such a big difference to many people’s lives. All my decisions were made with this goal in mind. I took science in school, graduated as a chemical engineer, did my MBA, and took up an internship in this field. I was super focused on this goal… up until a very specific moment.

While I spent a lot of time in my dad’s manufacturing plant as a kid, I also volunteered at my mom’s school — Sorem, a school for kids with special needs. But it’s as if that part of my life didn’t happen as a conscious decision. It was just a result of circumstances: the fact that my brother is someone who has special needs. I think I was unaware of the real impact this had on my life.

Shortly before I took up my first job in the pharmaceutical industry, I was volunteering for the Global Autism Project. They invited me to come to New York to execute a project I’ve been working on. I jumped at the opportunity. 3 months in New York? I’ll happily take that!

It turned out to be one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life. At the end of the first week, my mentor bought me a slice of pizza and asked how my week was. We were overlooking a small bridge. I burst into tears. I hadn’t realised how emotional the experience was. Here in New York, I was working with people who had autism. They were my peers. They had jobs. They had apartments. They had a full life.

That experience changed how I looked at the world. I grew up with the internet, and I thought of myself as someone with a lot of exposure to what happens in different parts of the world. Why have I never experienced something like this? Why have I not even imagined a life for my brother that is beyond his vocational centre, or the protected boundaries of our home?

This life existed. No one had to invent something. You literally just had to take resources that existed in one part of the world and bring it to another. It was so simple! It was almost a moment of shock to realise that there was no one who cared to do that.”

“I went home and took up the job I had lined up. I hated every moment of it. I felt I was given a routine task that anyone with an MBA could do. But meanwhile, my life has been unique: I’ve had personal exposure, I understood the way businesses work, I just had an earth-shattering experience…

10 days later I quit my job to start Reservoir. People around me were shocked and confused and a little worried. But eventually, they became my allies. I now run a profitable business focused on neurological diversity. We’ve worked with 200+ families in different capacities, collaborated with 60+ schools all across India, and created a diversity workshop (‘Made Equal’) that we conduct for companies (including Google) all around the world. We’re working hard to make information about autism and neuro-diversity accessible in all corners of the country. No one should feel alone and isolated.

My mom taught me a very important lesson about advocacy and awareness years ago. As a kid, I would feel very bad when I go out with my brother and someone makes fun of us. My mother would say: ‘Why don’t you just tell them about it?’’ I thought of these kids as bullies, but then I followed my mom’s advice and told them: ‘My brother has autism. He doesn’t talk that well, but he’s really good at cycling and kicking a ball.’ I was amazed by what I found. These kids weren’t bullies. They just didn’t know. Once I told them, everyone went out of their way to include them.

Feeling comfortable with ourselves wherever we go has gone a long way for our family. We’ve taken so many people with us on this journey and we’ve found support in the most unexpected places.”

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