I enter the class, and my non-verbal pupil with autism comes to me and signs that she wants to eat. It's not yet break time, so I say "no". She smiles, hugs me, and with the smile still on her face, she signs "food" again. And I say "no" again.
We go through the smile, hug, sign food, and no two more times, but she doesn't give up. She doesn't lose her smile throughout, she knows it has to work.
Looking at that beautiful smile, I ring an imaginary bell and say "It's break time!"
Experiences like this make my job worthwhile, because I remember when this little girl will throw tantrums if she wanted anything. Imagine a little girl crying, screaming, throwing herself on the floor and biting herself, and everybody else running helter-skelter trying to guess what she wanted. What a life that was.
One year of therapy, learning support, behaviour modification, with her communication skill improving, the tantrums have drastically reduced, she is happy, and everybody is happy; her classmates love her, she does not disturb their class anymore.
This is why we work. This is why we create autism awareness. Different children will respond to therapy differently, don’t forget that autism is a spectrum, but at least knowing and understanding what is wrong with a child helps the parents to find help for their child. And with therapy, the child stands a chance at living a successful life.
Social media is full of stories and videos of people with autism with savant skills, doing awesome things, having a good life. Hardly do we see the struggles the individuals on the spectrum, their parents, siblings, therapists and teachers face.
I am always happy to read success stories; how a child who could not perform a task has mastered it, how therapy is helping a child live a better life, how a child is learning to communicate with speech or an alternative method, how an adult on the spectrum has gotten a job and he is able to do it well because he was not left to himself as a child… These stories are my everyday life. I don’t think that there is anything more fulfilling than seeing a child you work with picking up functional skills, responding better to therapy.
We can only have these success stories when parents decide that they will not hide their children with autism, when they find help for these children. We can only have these success stories if more people are willing to commit their time to getting trained and providing support and therapy for children and adults on the autism spectrum. We can only have these success stories when the society accepts people with autism as part of them and give them the opportunity to be themselves while we work with them to become better people. With more awareness comes more acceptance and support.
April was autism awareness month, and there was a lot of awareness activities physically and through the media. But autism awareness does not end in April. Autism support does not end in April; autism acceptance does not end in April.
Thank you everyone that has supported Autism Awareness in this month. I really want to thank the father who wrote about his son's autism diagnosis, Mr Isaac Osae-Brown, Farouk Hassan, and Godfrey Orji for their contribution to the blog this month. I specially want to thank those who contributed by sharing articles from this blog; thank you for playing your part in this autism awareness. Let us continue in May, in June… all the way to December, and then April next year.