Finding Hope Together: In Celebration of World Autism Day

In African nations like Kenya, raising a child with any special needs brings a huge stigma with it.

How many of us are raising or know a child with autism? Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a brain disorder that is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control that 1 out of every 68 children worldwide is affected.

Though the diagnostic numbers of this condition with a wide spectrum of effects are on the rise, parents who have a child with autism in the United States often face a difficult and lonely parenting journey. These parents are overwhelmed long before the diagnosis, but learning that a child has autism only adds to that feeling. Many parents describe themselves as depressed, frustrated, and worn out to the point of having nothing left by their child’s patterns of unpredictable behavior.

For parents of autistic children in Africa, the challenges are even greater. In African nations like Kenya, raising a child with any special needs brings a huge stigma with it. Many people in this part of the world believe that parents did something wrong or are some how cursed if their child’s physical or emotional state is anything less than perfect.

This means that parents with autistic children, just like parents of children with other disabilities, quickly become outcasts—with few resources offered by their community leaders to help raise their child or children. They have few places to turn to for life-giving support.

Feed the Children–Kenya loves children with disabilities. We adamantly oppose such prejudice and want parents of children, no matter their child’s challenges, to have the resources they need to parent well.

In celebration of World Autism Day on April 2, Feed the Children’s Dagoretti Children Centre (DCC) hosted an event in Nairobi for parents and caregivers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

More than twenty parents who have autistic children traveled from the surrounding communities to attend the event facilitated by Feed the Children staff and by Stephen Muga, the rehabilitation coordinator.  Parents came with their autistic children and shared with one another the challenges they were facing.

“These mothers and fathers are not only parents, but they are therapists, psychologists, mentors,” Stephen said. “Their work never ends!”

DSCN2544Feed the Children–Kenya hoped that the workshop would help break down barriers and improve both acceptance and awareness of the disorder by educating and empowering parents to work with their children. The workshop presented parents and caregivers with valuable strategies to help them create a calmer and more conducive home environment for their children.

Some of the parents confessed to being confused on how to handle their child.

“What do I do when my child does not respond to my directions?” one mother asked.

Stephen took the parents through the signs that indicate a child has autism and at the end of the day, parents and caregivers had learned to identify triggers of unwanted behavior, structure situations to prevent avoidable behavioral problems, communicate clearly, encourage cooperation through the child’s interest and choose the right diet for the child.

Parents had the opportunity to interact closely with their children through different activities such as arranging letters to form words, arranging shapes (most of the children were drawn to circular objects), and inserting string through beads to make traditional necklaces.

The message of the workshop was simple: what autistic children need most are parents who accept their children, create a support group, and cultivate an autism-friendly environment at home. With these factors, the child will thrive.

DSCN2583By the end of the activity-packed day, all of the parents had decided to form ongoing support groups to share their experiences and encourage other parents who were skeptical of talking about their autistic children. The group chose the mission statement, “Together we are strong!

Feed the Children–Kenya was so happy to facilitate this workshop!