Tuesday, April 07, 2009

In the past decade, Ms. Hassan, an articulate, elegant woman in a brown head scarf, long skirt and leather jacket, has met more than 30 Somali families in Toronto with one or more autistic children.

She has also given birth to another, her fourth child, Abshir.

The condition, which Somalis call the "western disease" or the "disease from abroad," appears to have struck their community with a particular vengeance. While no data are available on prevalence, Somali parents in Canada are concerned enough to go public about what they say is a sleeping epidemic.

The comments are sad.
People arguing about immunization, and wheat and gluten allergies...vitamin D and sun deficiency, and even marriage between family members from "that part of the world".

Because Autism is so baffling, people scramble to find something to blame to help settle it in their own minds. Putting their children on extreme and restrictive diets with hope that it can change their child's developmental decline.

I don't know what it means, but I've seen a spike in autistic children in the past decade...and not a little spike, a huge one. When I started working with children, autism was a word in a textbook.
Now, twenty years later (especially in the last ten) I've met and worked with more autistic children than I would ever have imagined when I was in school.

The article is interesting to me because I have experience with autism and families of children with autism from Somalia.
I applaud Ms. Hassan for wanting to bring her community's children out into the light.
Because as much as people want to pretend that all treat autism the same way..with empathy and understanding, it isn't true.

Many Eastern communities see it as an imperfection, and they do hide.
Families will deny for longer than they should.

I was sad to learn that one mother who has two children with moderate Autism Spectrum Disorder hides her children's condition from her family "back home", and shows so much shame while interacting with the people who can help her that it's painful to be present while conducting meetings in order to find resources to help her children.

It's just heartbreaking.

Bravo, Ms Hassan!
More power to you in your attempt to shine the light of understanding onto the families struggling with autism in your community.