In Ethiopia, Autism found us before we even started looking. Sofia and I were walking in the high street in Axum when a boy asked us about our T-shirts and told us that there were several children that he knew of that had autism in Axum. Immediately I asked if it could be arranged to meet one of them and family.
The following afternoon we visited a very small compound of rooms. One of which was occupied by a mother, her son who was 17 and autistic, and grandmother. Armed with some degree of interpretation, we immediately started to hear her story.
She had always known that her son had a problem, but it wasn’t until he was 7 that the hospital gave a diagnosis and sent her away with a bottle of eye drops. No information or support was offered. Her son wasn’t able to stay in mainstream school, so she tried a school for deaf children, but that didn’t work out either. She is a single parent, and I asked her about her husband, who apparently is ex-military and disabled so not at home, however, I have since learnt that in most cases the fathers leave, and many mothers are left so support their autistic child as well as any other children.
Needless to say, with out any information and support, it has been a hard journey she has travelled and it is not over. Her main concern is to find something that will help her son’s anxiety levels which are high and prohibit him from dealing with social interactions of any kind. Something, anything that will help him, and sadly there was nothing I could offer to help.
Talking to him, he wishes he could drive and have a car and all the normal things a 17 year old would like to have, and yet with autism, it is likely he will never be able to learn to drive and experience that level of independence or social interaction. A conflict experienced by many on the spectrum where desires and abilities are in-congruent.
We visited 2 schools in Addis Ababa, both charity run organisations, and it was clear that they were struggling to gain political support and in particular expertise and training. They have self taught from books and battle on as best they can providing excellent care for the children they are able to take, teaching them basic skills and education where the children are able to cope with an educational environment – they are very clear in many cases they are providing help to mothers so that they can go out to work and support the family.
However, professional skills such as speech and language and occupational therapy are a huge challenge, and they desperately need professionals in these area to come from the Europe and the USA and spend time with them until they are more available in their own country. If you are professional in these areas, please let me know if you are interested in a 6 month/year sabbatical in Ethiopia.