A few days ago I was reading an article about the Schneider twins from the USA. If you never heard their story, it is about these two young men (Age 19) who are profoundly autistic (Non-verbal, they need 24 hour supervision, etc).
One day their parents heard about this running club that paired experienced runners with children with special needs and they were lucky to enter the program so when the experienced runners took their boys for a run for the first time, the parents couldn't wait for their return. When thirty minutes passed and they came back, the runners told the parents that their children were natural runners with unlimited potential. It's more, they told them that one of them in particular is gifted and they would have to find a coach to keep up with him because he is extremely fast.
As I read the story, a thought came to my mind. What about if all children with autism are somewhat undiscovered savants?. In a lot of the stories I read, the parents found out about their children's talents or unique abilities by exposing them to a whole lot of different environments and activities.
But how many parents in Trinidad have the chance to do that and the resources to make it happen? Not many. How many times our teachers, our relatives, our society or even ourselves as parents put limitations to our children just because they have special needs without realizing the unlimited potential they have? How many times teachers seclude children with autism because they think they are not capable of understanding or learning? Like the phrase says:
"Everybody Is A Genius. But If You Judge A Fish By His Ability To Climb A Tree, He Will Spend His Whole Life Thinking He's Stupid."
Our oldest son is a great artist and even though he doesn't enjoy drawing too much he is very good at it so it is something that I try to continuously encourage him. He also plays the organ very well. Just a few days ago, I saw our middle son playing basketball for the first time and I couldn't believe how much stamina he had and how good he was at it. Our youngest, is also a great artist and is very good at using computer programs.
Every child with autism is not only capable of learning but also capable of achieving great things in life. For those who are high-functioning, it helps them develop confidence and self-esteem which is so extremely important for them to succeed in life and for our middle-low functioning children, they need exactly the same thing because no matter what side of the spectrum a child with autism is, they all need validation and encouragement particularly from their parents.
Trinidad has a long way to go as far as offering professional services for children with autism. There are countless parents out there, many of them single parents who are unable to afford child psychologists (How many real/qualified child psychologists are there in the country anyways?"¦And no a Masters Degree does not qualify) let alone afford fees associated with art, swimming or music lessons. More needs to be done from the government as well as private organizations to help and support children in the spectrum as well as their parents who need respite. We also need more professionals willing to work with them and help them succeed.
Having three children with autism, my job as a mother is not only to be their advocate but to ensure that each one of them reach their full potential. Many times while doing that, you are faced with a lot of challenges. Whomever said that teaching a child with autism is easy has no clue what they are saying. It is hard work and a work of love.
Believe in your child, believe in your child's ability and potential and the great things they could achieve, and let them know they can do it and whether they can answer you or not, they do know that you are there for them and that you believe in them no matter what. If that's not love, I do not know what it is.
So when I see my oldest and he tells me he wants to be a meteorologist because he loves storms, and earthquakes and thunders and tornadoes or a game programmer where he can develop the most amazing games of all times"¦my heart feels all warm and I smile...
And when I see my middle son so interested in my cooking, and asking for this ingredient or the other"¦I imagine him in the Food Network one day as a great chef battling Bobby Flay in Iron Chef"¦and I smile...
And when my youngest little one like today, tells me in few words that he wants to go to the moon with me"¦I ask him if he wants to be an astronaut, he stops to think about the meaning of the word "¦nods in agreement, smiles and says "Yes!""¦...I smile back and think how in the world I am going to get him a rocket!"¦
"Do not fear people with Autism, embrace them. Do not spite people with Autism, unite them. Do not deny people with Autism, accept them"¦ for then, their abilities will shine". (Paul Isaacs, an adult diagnosed with Autism in 2010 & Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome in 2012 as a young child he was non-verbal and appeared both deaf and blind. He didn't gain functional speech between the ages of 7 or 8 years old).