I wanted to write something about the topic of Autism, because when I looked back I have never seen this topic addressed by anyone in our Muslim community. Autism is a growing issue in the world as one in 68 children are diagnosed with this condition. I wanted to address a few issues about dealing with Autism in hopes that it may help someone who is a parent, loved one or a friend of someone with a child who has Autism. I’m not going to go into what Autism is exactly, because that would be a lengthy discussion and there are plenty of websites and books dealing with this topic. I will just say briefly that it is a neurological disorder that affects ones social and communication skills. It is termed as being on the spectrum, because there are so many different variations of Autism that every child is different and they all have different needs according to how many of the indicators the child has.
When a young couple gets married they have hopes, plans and dreams for the future. They want to travel the world, find a place they can call home, raise a family, etc. Once they are blessed to have a child their world turns upside down in a good way. What I mean by that is they are so happy to now have a child that everything in life is now all about their little bundle of joy. They stop thinking about themselves and just plan and daydream on what their child will be when they grow up and all of the things they want to teach them. After a few years they start to notice that their child isn’t reaching the milestones that the other kids their age have met, but still remain optimistic saying he will catch up. As time goes by, they start to notice that maybe their child doesn’t respond to his name when being called, is reclusive, repeats actions over and over again like flapping their hands, spins in circles over and over again, lines all of his or her toys in a neat row side by side instead of playing with them the regular way a child would play with them, the child cant understand things when you are asking them to do something, doesn’t speak or tries to speak but has trouble getting the words out. These are all signs that a child with Autism may have. After the long wait to get an appointment with a Child Development Specialist they find out that their child, who is their only concern in this world, has a condition that doesn’t allow them to think and process information like the rest of the kids. He thinks differently and can’t be taught by the traditional way and style of parenting that most are familiar with. This can feel like you have been hit with a ton of bricks and is overwhelming to say the least! All of the things you wanted for your child to become seem so far out of reach now. You are having trouble just getting him to communicate with you and to understand you when you tell them that you love them. Do they know how you feel? Yet worst of all is that your child is going through so many difficulties and is unable to express himself through words and you are unable to do anything. You want to be there for him and help him but not sure what he needs and are just left feeling hopeless at what to do.
For a parent who is going through this struggle they really need a strong support system and someone to turn to. First and foremost, they must rely on God and then seek support from family, friends and community members. They may and will encounter all sorts of responses when they present their struggle to people surrounding them. Some will say it’s the Vaccines that you gave your child. This in no way helps the parents, because it makes them feel as if they were the ones who gave their child this and can cause one to start blaming themselves and going into a dark world of depression. After all, if a parent got their child vaccinated they were only doing what they thought was best in trying to protect their child from harmful diseases. How would they ever know something like this might happen? Some people in the family might blame the other side and go back and forth about whose fault it is genetically. This causes nothing but harm and fighting amongst family members. Who cares where it came from?! What matters most now is how we can come together and help this child who desperately needs our attention, support and love. Some may come and say your child has been diagnosed with this due to some sins you committed and God is cleansing you from the sins by this. I mean how does the person saying this even know that this is the reason? It is only an assumption on their part and makes it seem as if it is the parents fault for this and is very unsympathetic towards someone who is facing this difficult situation. After all Autism is by no means a curse from God, rather it is just a learning and developmental disability. This doesn’t mean the child is un-teachable, rather he will simply not learn according to the conventional methods of education and instead he would need an individualized learning plan that works for him. People with Autism think differently than we do, but in some cases they are geniuses. Some famous people in history have been suspected to have or had Autism such as: Albert Einstein, Vincent Van Gogh, Mozart, The creator of the television show the Muppets, amongst others. One famous person that I can think of during this era who has Autism is the famous actor and was also the writer of the movie Ghostbusters: Dan Akroyd. Lastly, apart from all of the other types of reactions I mentioned above, you will have people who will comfort you and tell you that they are there for you and your family in any possible way they are able to help. They encourage you to be the best parents that you can be and they love your child even more than before. This is the type of response that a family needs when they are going through this whirlwind of emotions.
It has been very hard for me to soak all of this in when I recently found out my son Ali, who is almost 3 years old, was diagnosed with Autism. As a man we are hardwired to fix problems when they arise. I just kept thinking that there has got to be a way for me to fix this. I have worked in DC and Virginia with adults who have Autism since 2008, but I only transported them from their homes to their day support programs or to their jobs. Even though I had interacted with them over the years I still was not fully aware of what Autism really was. So, I went to a bookstore nearby and bought tons of books on the subject in hopes to learn as much as I can. I am a researcher by habit and I was searching for the answer to this riddle. I found out that there is no cure for this condition, yet it can be improved through intense therapy sessions that are sometimes as much as 40 hours per week. I only want what’s best for my son and to be there for him as much as I can. I don’t know if he understands me all of the time, but I do believe that he knows I love him unconditionally. I often find myself driving in the car on my commute to work crying as I think about my son suffering through this and how frustrated he must be when he wants to tell us something, but can’t conjure up the words he needs. I watch him as he plays with other kids, but when they talk to him he just stares back at them, laughs and runs off to continue playing. One little 5 year old girl innocently asked me if he was okay and why was he acting weird. I assured her that he was okay, but deep down inside I couldn’t help but to wonder and be frightened at the thought of some other children bullying him when he attends school. I often, as any father would, think about all the dreams and aspirations I have for him and wonder if he will be able to overcome this obstacle and become whatever it is that will make him happy. I know and have faith that he can do it, maybe not by the traditional way of learning and doing things but through his own unique way he can overcome this. I will always be thankful, supportive and proud of him no matter what.
I feel that this is a test from God and I pray that he strengthens us through these times. I know that He can aid and assist my son to help Him overcome this challenge. So, I will always continuously call on Him and also do everything within my means to make my sons life the best that he could ever imagine. Knowing this brings to mind some verses and narrations that I would like to end this article with and I pray that this article will help and benefit those who read it:
“And know that your possessions and your children are a test, and that with God is immense reward. And know that your possessions and your children are a test, and that with God is immense reward.” Quran 8:28
Imam Sadiq (a.s) said: “A believer is reminded (of God) once every forty days by either a tragic event of a financial or physical nature for himself or his children, or a sort of sadness which he does not understand the reason for. Then he will be rewarded for this.”
“If a believer only knew what the reward for perseverance in the face of calamities is, he would always wish to be torn into pieces.” Mishakatul Anwar Hadith 1707 & 1713
By Mateen J. Charbonneau
aka Abu Ali
March 17, 2016
New Videos on Autism Awareness and Acceptance by Sheikh Mateen Charbonneau