Hello friend, oh am I glad to write to you once again. It has been a long while – one filled with inevitable silence, a certain extent of defeat and doubt. However, I am grateful for friends who hold us accountable. This goes out to to you, special one who knows herself 😉
The month of April is one of the most publicized months in the world of special needs and rehabilitation science. Why now? Well!!! it is autism awareness month. Autism to stand for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)- a condition that has become seemingly more common in Uganda and the world at large. One wonders why! This could be attributed to knowledge, awareness and social media over the recent years. Different organisations, families and individuals all over the world that have had an experience with ASD will ‘light it up blue’-a slogan to mean the adornment or portrayal of the colour blue to create awareness, show support and spread the love.
I have something to say about ASD, something far from the condition itself – because that can be found on the snap of your fingertips. Instead I am going to talk about my experience with ASD as an individual. Different right! Well now, let’s hear it!!
A brief introduction on ASD – ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder with which the affected individuals present with deficits in communication, social skills as well as repetitive behaviours. In simple terms, this condition is directly associated with the brain and individuals with this condition struggle to develop and maintain relationships, struggle to communicate effectively, have certain uncommon behaviours, for example, hand flapping, lining of objects, spinning, obsession with particular objects, to mention but a few.
I first learnt about ASD in my second year, second semester. It was one of those conditions that really intrigued me (pardon my geeky self). I mean, a condition that affects ones social skills, what! It seemed quite absurd, not to mention the fact that there is no known cause. The more I read about it, the further my interest deepened. Fast forward to my first internship experience, I got to encounter different children with different levels of ASD – yes ASD has levels ranging from high functioning ASD, formerly known as Aspergers Syndrome to mild, moderate and severe ASD. It was then that I understood that book work can never ever compare with the actual field work. I must say I was quite stuck for the first few days of that period of time. Each and every child I saw was different. Some spoke quiet well, others spoke a few words, some did not speak at all, some could sing, others could not, some could write , some could not, some were jolly, others did not express much emotion, some lined objects, others spun objects, others enjoyed to walk on surface edges, to mention but a few (Disclaimer:there is so much more that cannot be summarized within these lines). Never before had I seen a condition that could be so diverse and yet similar at the same time.
We were not taught how to warm our way into the hearts of our clients and I received the shock of my life when not one, not two but about three of the children I found at that internship place rejected me…ouch!! Was that even supposed to happen? For some peculiar reason, I thought that all I had to do was sit with these children and ‘help’ them and they would welcome me with open arms<chuckles to herself> Well, that was not the case! Like any other typical developing children or individuals, children/individuals with ASD have opinions and feelings too. They choose whom they like and whom they do not, whom they will play with, who will hug them, whose instructions they will follow. I learnt that i had to win their favour and oh boy was that tough:) I had to get creative, sing, play, be a child (as I was working with children), dance – anyone who knows me knows that I find it hard to dance in public. But I had to do it, I needed to pass plus there was the supervisor….
Over the weeks, I slowly warmed my way into the hearts of these children and they opened up to me…<yeyy with a victory dance>. It was then that I was able to really practice the little skills that I had. I learnt that the condition never defines the individual, that is why we do not say that ‘he/she is autistic’ unh unh. Instead it is ‘he/she has autism /ASD’ because they are individuals with feelings, opinions, strengths, weaknesses, dreams- yes they do. All they need is an extra dose of love, patience, support and finances(tough but true) The diagnosis is never the end of life, dreams or aspirations- no! There is hope, rehabilitation and this is what I would love you who is reading to take away from this piece. Uganda has been blessed to have various professionals who work in the rehabilitation process – speech therapists, occupational therapists, behaviour therapists and others.
Let us seek help, support, be kind and thoughtful and above all share the love. Till next time.
All my love,