The month of April is the month where we shed light on Autism Spectrum awareness. For many years, as a society, we’ve shied away from discussing autism – at times sweeping the topic under the carpet, hoping it will go away. But the tide is now turning, with more awareness being given to the issue. Eena Houzyama chats with Adli Yahya, father of an autistic teenager to find out the truth behind parenting an autistic child.
You walk into a restaurant and hear a child screaming. Turning towards the loud screams, you see a father holding his son down by sitting on the child. Your first reaction is one of dismay and confusion. But what are your next thoughts? Are you worried the child is being abused? Or are you appalled by the whole scenario? If you’re the parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder, there is only one reaction you hope other parents will give: empathy.
A viral video of a mother sharing the reality of what life is like for parents of kids with autism truly opened my mind to the heartache these parents have to live with. Her raw, emotional words made me realise how life instantly changes when you have to face the reality of what your child won’t be able to achieve when he or she grows up.
Many of us often take for granted the little things, like the bedtime snuggles we skip because we’re busy staring at our social media feed or attending to our work emails at home. Yet, for parents of autistic children, a simple act of making eye contact is enough to fill their hearts with love, as some children on the spectrum are known to find connecting with their parents a challenge.
And, each child is different, whether or not they have autism. Parents need to understand autism not for themselves and to diagnose their child, but also to educate their kids as this is the key in curbing bullying. Children with autism still have feelings and their naive nature is due to their different learning abilities.
To understand what parenting is like for those with an autistic child, I contacted Adli Yahya, founder of the Autism Café Project, to learn more about his family’s journey. Adli brought along his son, Luqman, and Imran, a volunteer at the Autism Café Project. Meeting both these young men showed me why autism is now known as a spectrum disorder. Imran, unlike Luqman, sits on the more functional spectrum of autism as he is able to voice his opinion, make eye contact and live quite an independent life. And on the other end is Luqman, a bright and cheerful young man who is constantly smiling, yet avoids eye contact and isn’t able to converse with me.
I turn to Adli and ask him how life has been since his story went viral last year. He smiles at his son, “To be honest, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to share my story and when it went viral, I was worried if I had done the right thing,” he tells me, regretfully. “But, I knew deep down that it was about educating and creating awareness. Watching the story come to live was so painful for me – to remember the past, and how I had a problem accepting him. And also how badly I treated him, because I did not understand,” he adds.
As I listen to Adli, I can’t help but see how much regret he still bears within him. The need to do right by his son is obvious, and despite getting backlash from some parties, I see it in his eyes how important it is to him that more people become aware of autism.