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Parents share the burden of raising children with autism

Sunday October 13 2019

AUTISM

Mr Michael Ndirangu Njenga (left) and his wife Josephine Wambui with their children Peter Njenga (second left) who is autistic and Natasha Njambi at Matuto village in Kabazi Location, Nakuru County, on October 13, 2019. PHOTO | FRANCIS MUREITHI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

FRANCIS MUREITHI
By FRANCIS MUREITHI
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For many parents, their greatest joy is to watch their children navigate early childhood challenges with ease.

However, some parents have watched their children struggle with life-threatening disorders. Such experiences generate a sense of loss both of child’s future and of the parents’ hopes.

To parents with children with autism the disorder triggers a feeling of confusion, anger and depression.

FRUSTRATED

Many parents feel frustrated when their children are clumsy, noisy and overreact and become angry or shy away from interacting with other children.

When Mr Michael Ndirangu learnt that their first born child was diagnosed with autism at Kabazi Health Centre, in Subukia, Nakuru County, two years ago, his marriage almost collapsed. 

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“It hurt our marriage as I deliberately delayed getting my second child for almost seven years as I feared having another child with autism,” he said.

Ms Mary Mueni, a single mother at Free Area was accused of bad parenting due to her daughter’s bad behaviour at a pre-primary unit.

AGGRESSIVE

 “My daughter acted aggressively towards other children, hitting or biting them. I was always summoned by teachers who accused me of not disciplining my child,” said Ms Mueni.

However, little did the teachers and the girl’s mother know that she had autism spectrum disorder. Taking care of a child with autism is a not a walk in the park.

“My son cannot speak. He was rescued by a Good Samaritan who found him in a cattle dip,” said Ms Angeline Kamau from Njoro sub-county.

Mr Dominic Kinmetto once disciplined his four-year- old son in front of visitors for being too honest about a visitor’s dress during a ceremony at his rural home in Mariashoni, Njoro sub county.

“My son innocently told a visitor who wore a mini skirt that she was naked. I was embarrassed and beat him up. Later, the boy was diagnosed with autism,” recalls Mr Kimetto.

CONFUSION

It is difficult to raise children with autism especially when other people and parents do not understand the condition.

In a bid to address the parents’ confusion and frustration of raising such children, Nakuru County Assembly has passed a motion that will compel Governor Lee Kinyanjui administration to establish special classrooms for such children.

Lake View Ward MCA Peter Karanja Mburu who moved the motion said that children with autism can live happy and fulfilled lives.

“The children should not be denied an opportunity to explore their talents,” said Mr Karanja. Studies have shown that early diagnosis has a positive impact on the lives of autistic children.

 “The sooner the diagnosis is made, the sooner the child can access help through speech and other types of therapy,” he said. He urged parents to seek medical attention should their children show signs of autism.

EYE CONTACT

Some of the early signs of autism in children include not responding to their names, avoiding eye contact, not smiling when they are smiled at, getting upset if they do not like a smell, sound or taste of something, not talking as much as other children, repetitive movements, and flapping their hands among other signs

Mr Karanja said some of the autistic children have lost their lives due to negligence. He said recently, an  autistic child drowned in River Malewa.

According to the motion, the county will also be required to furnish the classrooms with special equipment and learning materials.

 “Many children with autism and other disabilities in our pre-primary centres drop out due to lack of equipment and facilities,” said Mr Karanja.

The motion will also compel the county government to provide early diagnosis of autism, train and employ teachers, para-professionals and multi-disciplinary personnel such as speech and occupational therapists.

WELL TRAINED

“These personnel must be well trained in effective autism intervention techniques backed by science and research such as applied behaviour analysis and individualised educational plans,” said Mr Karanja.

The county government will also be required to have a referral system for severe autism cases.

The motion also wants the county government to establish a committee to address non-compliance and violations to ensure that all children with autism access to basic education.

 “The county government must make early interventions and ensure academic goals of such disadvantaged children are achieved as enshrined in our Constitution,” said Mr Karanja.

Kabazi MCA Peter Mbae urged the county government to establish the number of cases of autism.

He said it was sad that the county has never established the data for children with the condition and other disabilities.

AWARENESS CAMPAIGN

“As we set aside money to build classrooms, the county, through its health department, should establish a comprehensive data of children with the condition for the purposes of planning in all the 11 sub counties,” said Dr Mbae.

Dr Mbae called on the county to launch an awareness campaign saying some parents hide children with autism.

Flamingo Ward Rep Eddy Kiragu proposed that every ward should have a classroom for children with autism.

“The county government must set aside funds for awareness campaign to enable the parents hiding their children to bring them out for assistance,” said Mr Kiragu.