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In Her World: Living With Autism In Russia

At first sight, six-year-old Vera Bondik doesn't seem like an unusual child. She looks just like other children her age. The difference is that she will never make eye contact with you, talk to you, or listen to you. She lives in her own world, which no one else can enter. Vera is autistic.

Vera was a full-term baby with no pathologies or complications. When she was four months old, her parents noticed strange behavior -- Vera would not make eye contact, smile, or respond to new things. The older she grew, the more obvious it became. Vera was not healthy.

For the first two years of her life, the doctors would cheer up Vera's mother, Alena Bondik, by saying that these oddities were within the normal development pattern. When Vera was two years old, the doctors in Abakan came up with a preliminary diagnosis: deafness. Alena then consulted with doctors in Tomsk who did not confirm that diagnosis.

Vera started sleeping only a few hours a day, she became almost unmanageable. She was already three when the autism diagnosis was confirmed. The doctors then said to Alena, "Hang in there, there are no methods to treat autism in Russia."

Vera's story is told by RFE/RL journalist Vera Trofimova and photographer Svetlana Panina.