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Raising an autistic child …tantrums are not unusual

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By Shingirirai Mutonho and Regina Banda

THE birth of a child is news that is received with joy and jubilation in a family.
As each day passes parents keep track of changes and development in the child, which usually bring joy as they watch the newborn transform.
Parents eagerly wait for the day the baby smiles, learns to sit, utters his/her first word and take their first step.
When a child misses a certain developmental stage, it becomes a cause for concern not only for the family but those around him/her.
This was the case with Ryan Tshuma (not real name) when he reached the age of three and his speech was impaired.
Friends and relatives of Tshuma’s parents came up with different remedies they thought would help Ryan with his speech.
“From birth till he was three I noticed that all his developmental milestones were on time but his speech was delayed,” said Mai Tshuma.
“At three, his speech was inaudible and a friend suggested a speech therapist who pointed out that part of what was causing the delay was a clash in languages.
“Ryan loved watching cartoons so I guess he had already assimilated English as a first language so when we tried to teach him Shona he became confused.”
Mai Tshuma’s mother said the speech therapist suggested they stick to one language.
“At that point, we just needed a way to communicate with him as he was facing a lot of frustration and got angry trying to put across what he meant,” she said.
“After choosing one language, slowly we began to notice changes.
“The tantrums became less and his talking became clearer.”
Ryan’s parents later learnt that he had autism and they had to adapt to his behaviours.
“We noticed that Ryan was used to routine and, if it changed, he would fuss and we wondered why,” said Mai Tshuma.
“He still likes sticking to his timetable and any deviation from usual routine or set instructions gets him upset, or he worries about it.
“He loved repeating things, playing on his own, humming to himself and, at times, you could hear him engaging in a conversation on his own.”
For his primary education, Ryan was enrolled at a local school and faired well but the transition to secondary school became a challenge.
“Being in Form One, he is struggling a bit because it has been a huge change,” said Mai Tshuma.
“He does not like being touched, so at times he gets aggressive when someone in his class touches him.
“We managed to tell the teachers, so they are helping him acclimatise.
“He knows to go and report to his teacher when he is not happy, and so far they are helping him by talking to him calmly.”
Over the years, Ryan has managed to make friends who appreciate his differences.
“He does have friends but I think as they talk, they realise his preferences,” said Mai Tshuma.
“The things they like are a bit different and as much as they are his friends, he seems not to mind being alone.”
Mai Tshuma said one major challenge Ryan faces is being misunderstood.
“When he starts doing his work and activities in a particular way, that is when people notice,” she said.
“Once routine is established, he likes keeping to that routine.
“Some children may see him as weird at school, because he is different from them.
“At school, the teacher has been great and he has been helping in explaining Ryan’s condition to the other children.”
Over the years, said Mai Tshuma, as a family, they have managed to adapt and acommodate the different stages Ryan goes through because of his condition.
“Interventions so far have been home-based as we try as much as possible to read about it and try to implement some ideas we see. So far it is working well,” she said.
“Despite not being able to speak at three, he could count to a 100 and we have realised Ryan is logical and he follows instructions.
“He is very good with factual subjects like Maths and Science. He is blunt and honest.

“He is also tidy and smart and punctual.
“On the flip side, he follows instructions to the letter and I guess that is rigidity and this is a problem if instructions are changed.”
As efforts by those around Ryan continue to be made to ensure he copes with daily life, more needs to be done to raise awareness on autism.
We must all remember that April is World Autism Awareness Month.

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