DR RADICA MAHASE
"My name is Hubert Sankar and I am the proud father of my only child: my golden son Simran Enrique Sankar.
"To understand what I am about to write, it is important that you understand a little about me. My childhood was filled with personal struggles with a father who believed in the rod, not words or emotions. l worked with my hands and could work out solutions to practical problems, so I was able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and was lucky to find work in a good company.
"However, if you were to ask me, I would say my life really started 25 years ago, when I met my best friend, who is now my wife and life partner.
"As you do when you get married, I wanted to start a family. After many years of trying, keeping that faith and never giving up, God blessed me with my son.
"I was beyond happy and just wanted everything to go smoothly and have a healthy child. I resolved to be a better father than the one I had. I had so many plans; being an outdoor man as well, I couldn’t wait for Simran to be at the age where I will take him fishing, hiking, car racing and see him have his own family.
"When the day came and I was able to first hold my son in my hands it was the happiest day of my life, and it changed the way I looked at everything. Those first few months looking at him grow and start to do things, I became the kind of proud first-time father that you avoid because they talk incessantly about their child.
"When he was about nine months old, both he and his mother contracted Zika, and while they recovered soon after, I started to notice little behaviours in him, like lack of eye contact, no words and not understanding simple instructions. I thought he was a late learner and talker, although my wife and sister-in-law told me they thought something was not right.
"I could not bring myself to think that something could be wrong with my son, not after all the time that God took to give him to us, so I would say, 'No, everything is OK with him.'
"After a couple of months, I knew they were right and my precious son was not like other children, and we needed to find out what was happening. We took him to the Mt Hope paediatrics department and it was confirmed that he has autism spectrum disorder.
"This was the first time I heard about this condition. I had never met anyone who said their child had this and I did not know where to look for information or help. My wife and sister-in-law, myself, our friends and my fantastic employers started to look up any and all the information we could find on autism.
"The more I learnt, the more I understood this was a problem that I could not fix; the plans I had for my family would have to be radically changed. Whilst I had my own trepidation about my son’s diagnosis, seeing the impact of the diagnosis on my wife, I realised that I had to step up to another level to be the husband and father that my family needed.
"This meant not just working longer hours, or making financial sacrifices, but being there for my wife and learning the language and rhythms of my autistic son so that I could help him build on his strengths.
"I have been very lucky to have my wife on this journey: she has been tireless in trying to get as much help as possible for our son. She has found the scattered kernels of help like Rahul’s Clubhouse, speech and occupational therapy. I pray every day to have her strength and to be the man that she and my son need.
"My son is such an amazing, loving, and gifted child. He loves to build puzzles, line up his toys, spin and bounce on balls, and so many other things. He has difficulty communicating verbally, so it can be very hard understanding what he wants most of the time, but he is very intelligent. He is very active and is always running and climbing – which can make it challenging to ensure he keeps himself safe, especially as he is not always aware of the dangers of the world around him.
"Whilst there are difficulties in finding the right help for your child, the reaction of others can also be difficult. The culture around children who are different has been to not speak of the problem, or shun them.
"I never stopped taking Simran out in public. People stare and judge when he has his little tantrums. For those willing to listen I would explain to them and spread awareness.
"I hope that one day everyone understands autism. My greatest wish is for my son to be accepted and it is my hope that he will be able to cope with life and society on the whole. I would love for TT to invest more in special needs.
"My advice to other dads of special-needs kids is to never underestimate and give up on your children; fight hard, work hard and support them. Be a role model, cheer them on and always show them love and affection. Always make time for them, never neglect them, continue learning with them and understanding their desires, because more than anything they will always mimic behaviour.
"No matter how hard your day is, always put your family first, because you will and always be their biggest support system. Never let anyone tell you otherwise or take that bond away from you and your child. It is your duty to fulfil as a father. Just doing these things will make you the greatest father ever, without a doubt.
"I live my life for my son and my wife. Simran, my gifted son, thank you for changing my life so much and teaching me how to be humble and patient. I learn so many new things from you every day. I will never give up on you and will always be your biggest supporter. You have made me the happiest dad. I love you so much and would not change you for the world."
Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T