A humbling experience with children in the Autism Spectrum

World Autism Awareness Day is an internationally recognised day on April 2 every year. Cheryl Kristine, who works with special needs children writes about her personal experience.

Apr 01, 2022

By Cheryl Kristine
Honestly, I never knew the existence of the word autism or anything about autistic children until 2017, when a friend approached me to help with a school holiday programme for special needs children. That was my first encounter with them. They looked normal to me. However, I noticed the difference in their behaviour. The more I volunteered at the centre, the more I learnt about them. They are wonderful kids in their own way. I’ve learnt about the many challenges they face in their daily life and how some cope well using techniques or tools provided to help them manage better.

I have also learnt that no one method fits all. It has to be individualised based on each child’s need and coping mechanism. Even the learning style can differ from one child to another. Some of the children/people with autism can perform very well in certain areas of their interest. Again, every child is different. The autism spectrum is so wide that no one person can comprehend everything. It takes an open, non-judgemental mindset to observe and understand these children. In fact, they are just like you and me.
The first lesson they taught me was to slow down. I was always in a hurry and always wanted to complete things fast but they couldn’t care less about me. They moved at their own pace. Most importantly, I saw them happy being themselves.

Clearly, my world and theirs differed. Every time I observed these children, I saw many things that I wanted to change in them but in actual fact, they were changing me. They taught me what real humility is, they taught me that it is ok to fail, and to keep trying, they taught me to just be myself and to love myself the way I am. They taught me the real meaning of being human. They also reminded me of my own limitations.

From then on, life changed for me, I have had people telling me that something is different in me, that I am so happy and joyful, that I am so calm (not that I was a crazy woman before). Internally, when I was able to accept myself and the situation I was thrown into, I felt so calm and joyful. There is this sense of peace within me. I also began to realise that I used to be so anxious about everything but when I accepted things the way it was and learnt to lean more on God, I was not only able to identify that feeling but was also able to manage it by going to the prayer room, taking deep breaths, or saying the Rosary.

Children/people with autism feel anxious too when they are in unknown or uncertain situations. When they are anxious, I feel for them, simply because I know how chaotic it feels within oneself.

This year’s theme for World Autism Day is “Inclusion in the Workplace”. However, some of these children/youths will not be able to hold a job like you and me. So, what happens to them? I listen to some parents pouring out their hearts about their worries on what will happen to these children when the parents are no longer alive. That is really a tough question to answer.

I encountered an incident where a parent was looking to place his daughter in a home as he was a single parent and was not able to keep an eye on her. He did not have any relatives who were willing to care for his daughter. When I contacted a home, I was asked if the girl was able to dress herself, clean herself, eat herself and so on. This got me thinking because there are children who are not able to function to this level.

So, what happens to them? This lesson taught me about gratitude. Today, I am grateful for the life that I have and for where I am at this point in my life. I am thankful for my work, my family, friends and how God created me to be.

I think God placed me at this centre not only to learn from these autistic children but to use the skills, knowledge and gift that God gave me to help them and their families. During this time of Lent, I would like to suggest that you reach out to families with special needs children and just be there for them. These parents need all the support they can get from the community. As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a kid”.

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