If you happen to walk through the Dagoretti Children’s Center (DCC) compound on any given day, you will bump into the many children who are residents of DCC. Some of the kids might hug you, and others may shake your hand with a big smile… while others might cautiously hold your hand and sniff it several times before walking away.
Some guests at DCC are taken aback by this unusual behavior; others may wonder if the children are being rude. What they may not know is that these children have autism, and that is their way of greeting and familiarizing themselves with new people.
The DCC hosts several kids with a variety of disabilities including autism, a mental condition that is characterized by difficulty communicating, forming relationships with other people, and understanding abstract concepts. The condition is present from early childhood.
April is Autism Awareness Month, a time to educate others about autism so as to promote inclusion and acceptance in the community. DCC’s Rehabilitation Coordinator, Stephen Muga, recently met with parents who had visited the DCC seeking therapy sessions for their children to talk more about Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“We share information with parents, staff and community members, because most people do not know about autism,” Muga said during the meeting.“We serve a population that is vulnerable, so they do not have first-hand information about autism.”
On a daily basis, the rehabilitation unit at DCC works with autistic kids and provides occupational therapy services by guiding kids through the activities of daily living, as well as speech communication and social skills training. The team works with children on sensory integration, having them experience various sensory stimulants to help them have an adaptive response in relation to their environment.
On a monthly basis, the rehabilitation team serves about 27 kids with autism. Muga says that kids with autism have difficulty in expressive communication, social skills, and everyday activities like brushing teeth or putting on clothes. Others have problems with fine motor skills such as writing. Some cannot write but are able to speak. The rehabilitation team uses each child’s areas of strength to build upon their life skills.
He adds that there are high-functioning people with autism, such as Mandela, one of the autistic kids at DCC. “Mandela is incredibly smart and his autism is not always obvious to the untrained eye,” says Muga. While Mandela does not have developmental problems and he clearly articulates himself, he rarely looks at people in the eye and he will always sniff someone’s hand when greeted.
Muga emphasizes that children with autism are very different from one another. Some kids have extreme developmental delays, while others may be extremely intelligent in academics but may avoid eye contact or grow upset to changes in routine and lack social skills.
His message to all for this month’s autism awareness is the importance of understanding that each child or person with autism needs to be treated with an understanding of who they are.
Muga’s work at the DCC are possible only through support through people like you. Donate here.