Dr. Asunu Thong
354, Jo Foundation, Kohima
“On some days the only predictable thing about autism is the unpredictability; the only consistent attribute- the inconsistency. The child who lives with autism may look ‘normal’ but his behaviour can be perplexing and downright difficult” -Ellen Notbohm
Looking forward to meeting a family one evening who had a daughter much the same age as my eldest son and who was also affected with autism, we had much to share with each other even though it was the first time we met. Curiously I watched her daughter as she was brought in because even though both of them had the same condition they could not be more different in so many ways. Whereas my son was hyperactive and restless and tantrum almost every day, my new friend’s daughter was quiet and prefer to be in her own world rocking herself. That night she gave me a book about a mother’s journey with her autistic son and how he recovered completely. I read throughout that entire night, taking notes and geared myself up to do exactly what that mother did – stop giving cow milk and wheat products, ordered some vitamin supplements from America which claimed to have made the son in the book start speaking and medicines to help him sleep (as putting him to sleep every night was a nightmare -2-3 hrs of howling, kicking, pulling my hair, hurting himself, scratching me till he feels so tired and eventually dozes off). And woe to anyone or anything that interrupts his sleep, because the same process of howling and crying will start all over again. Toilet training was another difficult area which we had to deal with for a long time and we always stock up on diapers (like stocking up rice in case of famine).Diapers were done away with at last when he became 10 as he started indicating his toilet needs. Feeding time, clipping his nails, cutting his hair, frequent indigestions were some other daily challenges that we went through.
My son was diagnosed as affected with autism at the age of 2 and ½ years, but nothing had prepared me for such a challenging and different journey- not even my medical years . Well, to cut the story short, none of these quick fix remedies helped and it only ended up with me feeling exhausted and short temper most of the time as I desperately tried to help my son recover and start talking. (like stocking up rice in case of famine). The silver lining in the dark clouds came when we found out that our son enjoyed going to a play school and was happy to be around other children. This came as a surprise cause earlier he disliked strangers, strange and public places, hated being touched/cuddled for long (even by his own mother-me) so much so that we as his parents also became a recluse confined to the four walls of our home most of the time. My husband finally got a chance to take him for a 3 month Parent and child training program held in Action for Autism centre, Delhi. My son returned a more well behaved child with an equally if not, more excited father who came back with a determination to open up a school for my son and other children like him since he saw that he was able to learn when taught appropriately and in the right method.
Today, my son is 12 and ½ years old, half a foot taller than me and loves to meet and shake hands with familiar people and give tight hugs to his parents and loved ones and is happy most of the time. He is still non verbal except for an occasional Dad or Mom but he understands most of what we say to him and he can gesture or point to his needs. He has two younger brothers who do not spare him when he tantrums unnecessarily, makes him fight for his share, but is also sensitive to a lot of his needs and keeps an eye on him when I am busy elsewhere for which I am very thankful. A lot of support and prayers from our families, friends, church leaders and prayer warriors have being our crutch when the going was tough. More, over I as a mother can proudly say that my dear husband has being equally hands on in taking care of our son giving me the much needed rest time and again. Looking at him from the eyes of the world he has still achieved very little- diagnosed as profound autism with a mental age of a little more than 2 two years back from CMC, Vellore. But for us we are proud parents, proud not because we have achieved something but because God in His infinite wisdom gave us a unique opportunity to become parents of a special child. We are indeed thankful to God for including us in His plan as through our son we could open up an Inclusive school for other special need children and share His blessings with them.
Today, I just want to encourage those parents whose children may be an under achiever in the eyes of the world, who may not look and act normal like other children –our Heavenly Father has a plan for them too, and if we stop trying too hard and start thanking God for their lives and ask God to include you in the plan that He has for your child, you will see and experience the joy and peace that only He can give in this difficult journey. Now in our state we have professionals like Special Educators, Clinical Psychologists, Speech Therapists, Occupational and PhysioTherapists, Music Therapist whom we can seek help to guide us help our loved ones. I say guide, because in the end the parents are the child’s best teacher as no one knows your child better than you.
As we celebrate World Autism Awareness Day today, may each of us become more aware of such children’s needs and be bold enough to take a step forward to embrace and accept the child for who he or she is and also work to try and help to better the child’s life.