DR RADICA MAHASE
I am Robin Ramkissoon and I am an ICT/ business analyst. More importantly, I am a proud dad to two amazing boys, Zachary and Zane. Zachary is 14 years old and Zane is five.
Zane is on the autism spectrum. He likes to run everywhere; it is great exercise, and helps him sleep well at night but it’s also dangerous. He has to be constantly monitored and we have to ensure that all doors, gates, etc, are locked at all times. We have had situations where he ran into the road, even at school.
Zane likes to line up his toys and look at objects spinning. He does not play with toys in the typical way, for example, he will not ride his bike, but he will push it or throw it down and spin the wheels. He jumps, flaps and spins when he is excited, which helps him to cope with overstimulation and prevent meltdowns.
He gets a lot of stares, though, and sometimes people either move away or take their kids away. At first the negative reactions bothered me but I realised that when you start taking your child out regularly, people start to get used to seeing him, sometimes ask questions – so it’s a good way to spread awareness and create inclusion.
Zane likes to eat, although he will be picky and not eat everything and you have to know how to feed him. He sings and dances to music on YouTube and he loves songs with numbers, shapes, and colours. He also likes regular music which has repetitive tones and lyrics.
He loves to bathe or play in water, so I also have to be very careful and vigilant about that.
He loves to play games on the phone and tablet. However, he tends to throw stuff, so this requires close and constant supervision. I’ve lost TVs, tablets and phones because of this. I am still trying to figure out what creates the need or impulse to throw objects.
His main challenge is communicating verbally; he says words, but doesn’t converse. This is especially difficult when he is sick or in pain, because you have to figure out what the issue is.
When Zane was diagnosed with autism it was a bit of a shock. We knew something was wrong but at three years old, I thought he might just be a bit slow and hyper. Just like most people, I didn’t know much about autism. We researched it, but the initial learning curve was great and overwhelming at times.
AsThe world will love my autistic child a lot, but there is still a lot of learning and experience to come.
My son is such a sweet and loving and genuine child I would not change him for the world. I love him just as he is.
As a father it was pretty difficult – my marriage did not survive long after his diagnosis. At the time it was very challenging for us to be on the same page with how to move forward, and after his mother left, I had to find ways to be able to work and to take care of him.
I was at a very low point after we split up, but God gave me the strength, mentally and emotionally, to overcome my situation and pull it together for Zane’s sake.
We have also begun to work together more now, to do stuff with him, so I am hopeful for the additional support for him in the future
My past employer was not understanding of my situation, but my current employer, Persad’s D’ Food King, gave me an opportunity to be a part of their team and still work reasonable and flexible hours to accommodate my son’s needs. I thank God for them every day, for being genuinely caring and concerned about me and my son’s well-being. My in-laws were also a godsend, as they were also willing to take care of him while I am working. I thank God for their help and support every day too.
My life now revolves around work and taking care of my son, so I have little time for recreation or a social life. It tends to get frustrating and lonely at times, but at the same time I have the opportunity to grow and really be there for my son, and most importantly understand him better and make decisions with confidence. I put my trust in God and take things one day at a time.
I will tell other fathers of children with special needs to accept the challenge, learn to understand your child and think outside the box – you don’t have to follow the norms and expectations of society. Your child’s happiness is what counts.
Ignore the stares when taking your child out in public, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. The only way we can make things better is through exposure and awareness; I too was ignorant and judgemental at one point.
I am happiest when I know that my son is happy, healthy, and comfortable. It feels good to see him smiling and I just want him to be happy and at some point, be able to go out and cope with daily life and society independently.
In the meantime, I will keep carrying him out to enjoy the world and let society see what a wonderful person he is. When the world sees how cute he is, they bound to fall in love with him and accept him, autistic and all!
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T