Children and individuals with autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD or spectrum) are often ridiculed or stereotyped against due to their nature and as a result of a lack of understanding and knowledge about their condition. They are neglected, abused and misunderstood; yet they are humans just like us, we have failed them and our actions and in actions only rubs salt into injury and it is time, as a people, we embraced autism and accepted autist’s for who they are.
An autistic child’s mother writes a letter to her child and it reads: I knew of motherhood; I had seen it and had always yearned for it. The truth though is that I was never prepared for it. When the Doctor first showed me ultrasound images of my little baby boy, I knew then and there that everything had changed. Like so many first-time parents though, I wasn’t prepared. I was definitely not prepared for my boy. The thought never once crossed my mind that I’d have a baby with autism. And so, I wondered, could I really be that strong support for him when I had none myself? Could I love him unconditionally as no doubt he’d love me? And could I give him my everything? The answer? A resounding yes, Yes and YES!!! He is the best thing that ever happened to me. And while his condition does mean that most people shy away from him, he like every other child really only seeks to be accepted. Its such a pity that most people do not seem to realize this fact. No matter he will ALWAYS have me, his greatest cheerleader and muse and together we will face all his failures, fears and triumphs.
I had personally heard about autism and the spectrum. I knew that people especially children suffering from the condition were to a certain extent ostracized against but like most people it never really registered with me, until a chance encounter with an autistic child. Seeing his condition and the way the child was almost subconsciously shunned by peers as a result of their nature, it struck me then that yes these children are different but there is not one individual in the world who is a literal carbon-copy of another, indeed, we all have differences be it in terms of color, creed or even religion.
And yet, it is this diversity that makes us all unique beings and which brings us together as one. Why then must these children suffering from autism be made to feel less human? Why must they be treated inhumanely when fundamentally they are no less than we are.
Not a lot is known about the prevalence of ASD in Ghana. It is still common belief that ASD is caused by supernatural sources. Thus, traditional healers are sought out before medical professionals, leading to late diagnosis and increased severity of ASD.
Children with autism are mostly characterized by their unusual speech patterns, tendency to avoid eye contact and difficulty to express their feelings and thoughts effectively. For most children in their development stage, this can be damning as a child regardless of their special or complex need require social interaction like any other and especially exposure to their peers during those formative years to build their character and sort their behavioral patterns while establishing that feeling of bonding and inclusiveness within them.
Unfortunately, the lack of education on autism especially in Ghana has bred a certain apathy towards these special needs’ children. A child with autism is just like any other child, the only difference is that they interact with their environment in their own unique way and which without prior knowledge might seem weird and oftentimes even outlandish to most. I believe it is high time that as the fight for equal rights and gender equality is been waged, attention also be drawn towards children who have autism and those who have complex and special needs.
Indeed, there is not yet a cure for ASD, however, speech therapy, behavioral therapy, sensory integration therapy, and occupational therapy can help with the symptoms.
We live in an era of data and speed where things of more importance are placed on the minutiae and the salient ones given little thought. The truth is that so many trivia and unimportant things are held with such doggedness, when sometimes all it takes to make an autistic child feel inclusive is but a smile, patience and a listening ear from parents, teachers, friends or their guardians. It is important that parents understand this and appreciate their children for who they are, doing everything possible to ease their transition into our big bad world.
Oh! but it isn’t easy, to understand an autistic child is to learn tolerance, perseverance, calmness and perhaps most important of all, patience.
It is always saddening to see people and sometimes even immediate family of an autistic child fail to see beyond the physical while ignoring the person within. They need not your pity nor have you any reason to fear them, these are just little children who need love, affection and compassion like any other child and whilst indeed some can be slow in the thinking process, just like any other child; slow and measured always wins the race.
It is fundamental that we find reading and academic materials tailor made to these special needs’ children (Ruparelia et al., 2016). Books that offer a peek into their thought process and perhaps most importantly allows their peers to understand them better and the society to embrace them must be introduced into our educational sector and our various homes.
I am a firm and proud advocate for children and individuals with autism. They may not perhaps be what as a parent or family you may have bargained for, but they are here and it is OUR duty, collectively, to ensure that these children will fit seamlessly into our society.
This can only happen by letting go of the bias and embracing the difference and understanding that different is perhaps not so bad after all.