Stella Atwooki was overjoyed when her son John was born. Every day he was growing and becoming more handsome. John was happy and loved signing and playing with other children. Then aged three, something changed. John did not want to play with other children anymore. He stopped talking completely and began throwing tantrums.
Atwooki, like other parents was afraid, not understanding her son. Some people thought her child was mad or possessed.
She later learned her child has autism spectrum disorder. she learned more about autism and what she could do to help. “When you are aware, you know what to do.”
Dr Esther Nakayiza a Child Specialist from Ronela Clinic in Najjera, describes Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) commonly called Autism, as a lifelong condition that occurs in one out of every 42 boys and one out of every 189 girls. It’s a complex development disability that affects a child’s ability to communicate, social interactions and behaviours.
“There are several families battling with this problem and yet majority are not able to bring their children out because they are afraid of what the communities will say, Dr Nakayiza says, adding: “Instead of seeking medical care, they hide the children in their homes which is worrying.”
Dorothy Nambi the founder of DORNA Centre of Autism in Ntinda explains that the centre was formed to transform the lives of children with autism.
” I was at church in Sunday school and there was a child in one class who was unsettled. The teachers became concerned with him and informed the parent that the boy can’t be in this class because he was unruly. On hearing this the mother replied that she will not be coming to church anymore and that was the last time we saw her,” narrates Nambi. She adds that the boy was the reason the centre was started in 2004 with five children, who have now increased to 20 children.
On April 2, Uganda joined the rest of the World to commemorate World Autism Day and this year’s theme was: “Empowering women and girls with autism.”
Nambi adds that she later met with the same mother and her son at an event where she informed people attending that she works with children of autism. Nambi says the mother walked to her with excitement and promised to drive her son to Sunday school. today as we talk the boy is now settled and calm. On the mother realizing a change in him, decided to donate one hundred chairs and a hundred bags of cement. This boy represents millions of children with autism but living in fear of the stigma associated with the disorder.
Nakayiza says the cause of ASD is unknown. Recent research indicates genetics and environment may contribute. There is agreement, however, that autism is no- one’s fault. It is not a parent fault that their child were born with autism. Parents can educate themselves and address the needs of the child early. Children with ASD can live a full and productive life.
Characteristics of ASD
ASD describes a spectrum of disorders. Some children with ASD need a lot of help and some little. ASD children are all different but common characteristics are:
difficulties in social interaction, struggles with communication, repetitive behaviours and differences in sensory perception.
What you need to know about autism
Autism Spectrum Disorder affects children all over the world.
Every child with AS will have different behaviours, strengthens and weaknesses
Children with ASD benefit from attending school. Early intervention is important in addressing the symptoms of ASD whose cause is unknown and can affect any family.
Dr Kellen Kabajungu a nutritionist from Mulago hospital, defines autism as a condition that affects the way the brain works.It can make it difficult to make friends, tell people what you need and understand what other people think.
“Severe autism has been linked to low levels of certain nutrients (vitamins B3, B6, C. calcium, iron and zinc). Omega-3 fats are also known to be important for good brain function. Good nutrition is important as poor diet can affect mood, learning and sleep. Healthy foods give the brain and body the nutrients that they need in the right amounts,” Kabajungu says.
Problems with eating
Kabajungu further says that autism can change the way things smell, taste the texture, making it hard to eat certain foods. Eating less than 20 different foods is unhealthy, especially for children as it can restrict growth. In rare cases this eating behaviour can lead to very serious problems such as blindness, bone problems and vitamins deficiencies.
Some people with autism can become overweight if they eat too many sugary and fatty foods and not enough fruit, vegetables, fish or whole grains. This type of diet can make you feel unwell and increases risks of having a heart attack or stroke.