Only strong parents can raise an autistic child
DR RADICA MAHASE
Throughout May, I have been sharing the experiences of mothers whose children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. This week I share the story of Kathy – this is not her real name; she chose to conceal her identity because she fears backlash from society. The photos accompany this article are also not of Kathy. Here’s Kathy’s story:
“I wasn’t supposed to be a mother, and definitely not the mother of a child with special needs. I was only 19 years old when I got pregnant and I didn’t know anything about taking care of a child. I grew up in a home with an abusive father so once I finished form five, I left home. I went to live with a cousin in deep south. At 17, I moved in with an older man from the village. I got pregnant but I had an abortion. Soon after I got pregnant again but by the time I realised I was pregnant; it was too late to have an abortion. I had a baby girl. She was beautiful but I was too depressed at how my life had turned out, to see her beauty. For the first two years of her life, I was mostly angry and depressed and I didn’t really care for her. She used to cry all the time and I would get real mad at her. She didn’t say words and she didn’t really bother with me when I call her name. It’s only later I realised that all this were signs of autism.
"Before her third birthday, I left. I couldn’t take the crying and I didn’t understand why she was not talking. Her father would cuss me up and say that I made her that way and that I needed to fix her and make her better. I didn’t know how to do that so I left and I went up town to live with a friend I knew from school days. I got a job as a security officer. Sometimes I would work in the hospital and I would see all these parents coming with their children. I didn’t really think much about my daughter. When I did, I would say to myself that she was better off with her father, because I wasn’t cut out to be a mother. I was too young; I had my life to live – I made all the excuses for leaving my child.
"One day I saw a little boy who didn’t want to go by the doctor. The parents couldn’t control him – he was scratching them and lashing out. I told the other security guard, watch how bad that child behaving, how his parents can’t even control him. The other guard, an older man, said how he has a son like that and the child just having a meltdown because it’s a new place for him; how his child is autistic and don’t talk. That was the first time in my life I had heard about autism. When my co-worker starting talking about his son, and how he won’t look at you in your eye and he don’t talk, I started to think about my daughter.
"After six months of hearing my co-worker speak about his son – how much he loves him and how he takes care of him, he was working all the extra shifts he could get so he could pay for therapy – I called a friend from the village to ask about my daughter. It turned out that her father had another woman and she didn’t want to take care of the child so she was living with her grandmother. It took another six months before I got around to calling the grandmother who encouraged me to come and see my daughter. By this time, she was almost six years old, she was only saying words and she was in a pre-school nearby. When I eventually saw her, she didn’t know me, she didn’t even bother with me. It was like being with a stranger’s child.
"One of the biggest blessings in my life is my child’s grandmother, because she taught me to be a mother! She helped me to understand my child, to communicate with her. She encouraged me to visit my child more and the more I visited, the more I started to understand my daughter. After a year, the grandmother convinced me to move in with them and she taught me how to take care of my daughter. I learnt what every gesture and sign mean; I would go on YouTube and find crafts to do with her; her teacher showed me activities I could do with her at home.
"Instead of spending money on stupidness, I started saving every cent so she could get speech therapy. Once I started to believe that I could be a mother, I was on a roll. I wanted to give her everything, to be there for her. I wanted to be a better mother, capable of taking care of my child and to give her a good life. I stopped believing that I was too young or not cut out for motherhood. I started believing that I could be a strong mother, strong enough to raise my autistic child. I am not perfect; I struggle financially; I make mistakes but I am willing to learn and I love my daughter very much. I may have missed out on the first five years of her life but I plan to be there for the rest of her life. I believed that only strong parents could raise an autistic child and I could be a strong parent."
Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T
"Only strong parents can raise an autistic child"