Autism Awareness

New Hope Uganda wants to join with many people around the world in raising awareness of autism on Sunday, April 2nd. Here is a post from Kate Tolhurst, who is the founder of Treasures in Jars of Clay (the special needs ministry at Kasana Children’s Centre).

Autism is a difficult disability, and often it is made harder by the fact that the individual looks, and is therefore expected to behave like a ‘normal’ child. In our local community and probably most of Uganda, autistic people are thought to be possessed by demons and are often locked up and hidden away.

Trying to reeducate people and to persuade the parents that their children are blessings and not curses is certainly a challenge. One of our goals this year is to teach parents and our staff more about autism and how to help those who live with it. Autism will be the focus for our community sessions in April and May. Please pray with us that the teaching is received well.

Two of our full-time students/residents, Allen and Vianna, are siblings who both have autistic tendencies. Their problems with processing sensory input, combined with their parents’ lack of knowledge and poverty, led to them both being malnourished. Autistic children often suffer from phobias and obsessions which both of them have along with the fear of anything new and unfamiliar.

Allen weighed under 5kg when she first came to us at the age of 8. She would only drink milk and it had to be very hot or she would refuse! She wouldn’t allow anything solid in her mouth. However, with lots of hard work, perseverance and patience by the staff, Allen has learnt to drink a variety of liquids of all temperatures and is now happy to eat food, especially chocolate cake!

When Allen came, she would lie on the floor with her legs in the air screaming. She didn’t make eye contact and feared absolutely everything. Now she is full of smiles and giggles and loves interacting with people she knows.

At home in the village, Vianna got himself in trouble with biting ants and had a close encounter with the local dam. He loves being outside and will wander for miles if allowed! Vianna, who has just started in our class and turned 5, also has a phobia of solid food. One of the main things we are working on is getting him to gradually accept thicker foods, and to stop him from eating soil!

He is a happy little boy but is very much ‘in his own world’ and is non-verbal. We are also teaching him how to communicate, play and interact with others. With the right approach, he definitely has the potential to learn.

It is also our plan this year to improve on the ways we teach and relate to the autistic children in our class and home. We hope to introduce visual timetables and PECS (Picture Exchange Communication Systems) so that the children are more aware of what is going on around them, what is happening next, and also have an opportunity to learn how to communicate their desires and needs. We pray that these tools will help enable our children who are autistic to fulfill their God-given potential as well as reduce their anxiety.

In our second classroom, which is in the final stages of construction, we have included a small blacked-out sensory room where our children will be able to go to experience and explore different lights, textures, sounds, tastes and scents. For our autistic children, it will also be able to be used as a place to go to relax and calm down when they experience ‘sensory overload’. This is a common occurrence for these children and can lead to severe anxiety and behavioral problems.

Please pray for the autistic children and adults who live in our local area and whose families’ struggle to care for and protect them from the dangers of everyday life. Often these children have little or no awareness of danger and find themselves being burnt, attacked by ants, hit by vehicles etc. While their parents try to work and earn a living or grow enough food to feed the family, these children are often left to wander or locked in the house. Our program is able to help just a few children, but there are many more out there.