Jaya Pandey: Helping Autistic and Special Needs Children and Their Families

Jaya Pandey

BURLINGTON, MA—Jaya Pandey grew up in central India, with 3 sisters, her parents and grandparents. She earned a Masters in Chemistry and taught in high school for few years before marrying her best friend.

“We moved to Singapore, and had my first born. We then moved to Boston in 1999. Anand, our next son was born in 2000. I decided to stay home to raise the boys,” says Ms. Pandey. “We hit a difficult time when we realized Anand had some issues in the form of speech and language delay when he was 4. It took the name Autism when he was 8, and I had just started working full time.”

In 2015, Ms. Pandey joined the 100 Saree-Pact, wore 100 sarees and wrote stories about her life, people, and relationship.

“That changed many things in my life. The Saree Pact gave me a platform to talk about special needs and the necessity of awareness and acceptance,” says Ms. Pandey. “Anand and I were featured in a Ted Talk, some articles and a radio talk show. My husband Ashish and I have been blessed to have each other, Ajey and Anand (our sons), amazing friends and wonderful family.”

Here is a Q/A with Ms. Pandey.

INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?

Jaya Pandey: I work as a Business Analyst for State Street. I enjoy being part of a team, working together, finding a solution, and meeting some brilliant and out of the box thinkers. Also, I enjoy being part of an organization which supports community and values diversity.

My passion is my Network – I bring people together, I connect them to resources and encourage them to be a part of community, meeting them in person, telling them about resources, sharing my and some others’ stories, and sharing information I know. If I don’t know then I guide them in towards more information. Sometimes, I just listen. I am known to cook and serve some drinks occasionally too. And I enjoy every moment of it. The best part of it comes in the form of tears, hugs, notes and emails. Feeling that what I am doing is changing their life, empowering them and inspiring them to be better is the best part.

Jaya Pandey

INE: To what charitable, community and professional groups do you belong and why?

JP: Autism Resource Center (Advisory Board)

Children’s Hospital Autism Center (Parents advisory board)

Federation of children with special needs

AANE (Asperger Autism Network)

Mass Family Organizing For Change (MFOFC)

Various labs exploring Autism

Autism Speaks

Hindi Manch: part of team for long time and was in steering Committee in doing first “Sahitya        Sammelan”. This wonderful organization is doing some amazing work.

Actively involved in Franklin – library, town and school system.

Various employee resource groups at work.

Musical groups and help many friends organizing their musical show.

These days most of time goes to support various organization working for special needs and special education. These organizations are impacting so many lives. I write for various organization about their work and impact.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

JP: Cooking, Music (especially ghazals), Travelling, studying people and culture, sarees, reading, poetry, writing.

INE: In what way do you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community or your company/organization and professional field?

JP: At my job, I work with very diverse population, helping people understand different cultures. I have been part of a steering committee of various employee resources groups, been involved with different initiatives and events, and I’ve helped plan many volunteer activities.

Outside of work I believe in serving the community I am from as well where I live now. I have been part of Franklin (the town I live in) volunteer groups, and actively involved in town and school activities. I strongly believe in giving back to community we live in. I can take credit for introducing “Indian culture” to my town in various ways. I have introduced “shop and eat the Indian way” to a largely white town. I started a desi women’s group years ago to connect Indian women, and helped them settle and make new friends in their new town.

I became part of 100 Saree Pact in 2015 and wrote saree stories. Autism Awareness came out of those stories. And then it became more than just our story. It went on to tell the stories of many more families all over the world, who have special need children. I wore 100 sarees and wrote stories about people, cause, relationships and more.

I am very fortunate that so many moms allowed me to be part of their journey, shared their stories, and trusted me enough to come with me toward building a community of their own. They opened their heart to some other moms. They believed in my vision.

I think these moms enriched my life. I just gave them a place to come and be the real person, share their ideas, talk about their difficulties and in the process, make some new friends.  I organize the lunch and dinner, some play dates for kids, some social groups. We share each other’s knowledge and help others in need.

I go to different colleges and universities to speak with future educators, talk at various community events and seminars, workshops about autism awareness, community building and empowering moms. I write for several organizations, newspapers, pod casts and, blogs about this.

I wear a blue saree to all special need related events that make people stop and ask question. I

go to political events and state house lobbying for the welfare of the special need community. I meet with policy makers and politician to tell our stories and talk about changes in system.

I am trying to build a bridge between the Autism community and Indian community. Many times, I am the only Indian mom at a conference, seminar or workshop. I am encouraging Indian moms to come out of their shells and be part of a bigger group.

I have donated my “Indian meal for a family” and Indian cooking lessons for raffles for various organizations (Autism Housing Pathways, Franklin SEPAC, Sens-Ability Gym and many more)

I write about our life, struggle, victories, difficulties and various events and issues @ MomLovesAnand.Blogspot.com  My blog has given voices to many moms and helped them overcome their shell and be supportive of their children.

INE: What is the most pressing issue that you believe women are facing today?

JP: Balancing home, career and desires. In the process to have it all we are forgetting to take care of ourselves. Women want to hold on to the values we are raised with and want to reach out to the sky. Our wishes and dreams often conflict with reality and women usually let go of our own needs to fulfill the needs of family and society. If we go for those we do it with guilt.

INE: What is your rare talent that people don’t know about?

JP: I cook with instinct and don’t need recipes usually. I can visualize the final product.  I follow my instinct and have an ability to connect with people. I am a life-long learner and a story teller.

I am an organizer and planner. And I am excited to meet and learn about people, and listen to them.

INE: What are your favorite books?

JP: I grew up reading literature – a lot of it. My parents are avid readers… From Premchand, Nirala, Pant, Bachchan,Amrita Preetam, Manto, Dinkar, Mahadevi, Tagore , Jaishankar Prasad, Chaturvedi and many more.  Soon Faiz, Ghalib, firaq, Meer, Iqbal, Gulzar, Kaifi Azmi, Josh, Faraz, Parveen shakir and some more took over my world in my twenties. I loved reading historical fiction and non ficton.

I enjoy reading nonfiction and historical books. And favorites keep changing. Shivani was my to go author during my teen years. Right now, “Spark joy” is talking to me. “Lean in” is another one in the list I enjoyed. “Namesake” explains my life in a way nothing could, that is one book I always suggest all my non-Indian friends to read when they ask questions about life in India.

Now my reading shifted to lot of Autism related stuff, research papers, article about various topics.

INE: What are your favorite quotes that motivate you or make you smile?

JP: My inspiration comes from poetry more than quotes

  • “Gam na kar Gam na kar Dard tham jaye ga,Yaar laut aayen ge, Zakham bhar jaye ga,

Dinn nikal aye ga, Abar khul jaye ga, Raat ddhhal jaye gi,

Ruut badal jaye gi, Gham na kar,Gham na ka–Faiz

  • You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us . And the world will be as one. –John Lennon
  • Mere seene mein nahin, to tere seene mein sahi
    ho kahin bhi aag, lekin aag jalni chahiye.–Dushyant Kumar
  • People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. —Maya Angelou
  • “The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.–Morrie Schwartz
  • “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean, in a drop.”–Rumi

INE: Who inspires you the most?

JP: My Mom and Dad, my sisters, my sons and husband. These are the people who make me think beyond the limit. My husband, Ashish is my strength. My grandmother was a woman who could not “Not” do nothing. She was artsy, a fighter, amazing cook and go-getter. She didn’t have a degree but was one of the smartest women I have come across. I get inspired by people walking in and out of my life. I learn from everyone. I’ve met some amazing parents in this journey and they are my biggest inspiration. Ajey, My older son has taught me so much about life and Anand has taught me resilience and perseverance.

INE: Who is the one person you would like to meet and why?

JP: Difficult to pick one between Jagjit Singh and My uncle.

Jagjit Singh. I have been in love with him since I was 13. His ghazals defined every emotion in my life. I don’t think anyone could move me the way he did and still does. I can spend days just listening to him. His voice has ability to take me to a different world. I lost my uncle when I was 15. He was in his thirties and was way beyond his time and has influenced me in many ways. He is the one who introduced me to Ghazals. I so miss him and would love to see what our world would have been if he was around.

INE: What are your core values that you try to live by?

JP: Empathy, Passion, kindness, Gratitude and above all “pay it forward.”




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