THE SILVER LINING IN THE CLOUD
Sometimes it takes what seems to be a misfortune to show us the real blessings in our lives. Having sojourned through the phases of denial through to acceptance of a son’s autism and finally being able not only to smile at the progress he has made but be able to reach out to others; to encourage them too to be accepting and seek help; and to reach out to the society at large is nucleus of the story of AACT and Autism in Ghana.
INSPIRATION IS MY SON WITH AUTISM
My son, Nortey was diagnosed with autism at age 2 years, twenty-nine years ago in the United States of America. There was very little help at that time, even in the USA. I therefore had to become a stay at home mother since there were no early intervention programs. At 4years of age, my son was admitted to preschool and I volunteered in his school where I got a better understanding of autism.
When I returned to Ghana some fifteen years ago, searching for autism services for my son proved rather difficult. Nortey was sixteen years old with raging hormones, many challenging behaviors, ranging from self-injurious behaviours (Sib’s), aggression, insomnia, to mention a few. Sleep at night was a luxury (I was lucky if I got two (2) hours). What was I to do in a country where there were no services for children with autism? I felt like an outcast, dejected, alone, and petrified! I needed to find support and fast and there was none. I found some solace in church and felt compelled to tell whoever would listen to me talk about my son and autism. Thus began autism awareness in Ghana. Mind you not all pastors were welcoming, but I kept at it, asking for prayers and giving testimonies of how far God has brought my son and I. My sister was also spreading the word about autism and within a week she noticed a girl in her church that seemed to have autism. Mom denied her daughter’s autism; only attributing child’s condition to a lack of speech. Thankfully I met both mother and child and shared my story with her and amid tears she said she was also a returnee and felt very isolated and confused because of her child’s autism. (The stigma one faces with autism in Ghana is horrifying.) By word of mouth I continued to talk to different people about autism and within months I got to know of a few families affected by the disorder. Thus began the autism families support group! Through the awareness campaigns, a few other families joined the support group. Autism did exist in Ghana and I was finding it!
I was fortunate to meet Mr. Mawusi, a special education teacher and a speech therapist. I hired him to help Nortey at home and the parents in the support group also expressed interest in the training Nortey was getting. The Autism Awareness Care and Training (AACT) was thus birthed in 1998 in a small room at the back of my house. Fifteen years on, we work out of a house in Kokomlemle and currently, we operate with close to forty children, ranging from preschoolers to young adults.