The seven-year old boys head remained staring at the ground while banging an empty plastic soda bottle against a stone. His dirty appearance seemed like he had been roaming around all day in the red Ugandan soil.
His mother looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said ‘this is my son, Ian.’
Two months prior, Imprint Hope’s team had identified this vulnerable family due to the fact that Momma Ian was desperate for help. Momma Ian had just been evicted from her home because she didn’t have any money to pay her house rent and her son wandered all day.
Many times Momma Ian would resort to locking Ian in the home because she was afraid of where he would wander.
Many children with disabilities across Africa stay out of sight because parents hide their child, fearing the stigma and shame. Many parent believe that a disability is a sign of a curse or possession of a spirit.
In addition, families who have children with Intellectual and Neurodevelopmental disabilities experience additional challenges because many times their child can move around the village, but demonstrate limited engagement and interaction.
Many children with Autism across Africa also stay out of sight because few clinicians have the skills or experience to identify the condition, if they are even aware that it exists.
With 57% of the Ugandan population under the age of 15 years old and only a handful of pediatric neurologists and psychiatrists in the whole country, one can only imagine how many children are being locked away, secondary to the limited access to medical and rehabilitative care these children require – Ian is one of those children.
Ian and his Mom graduated from Imprint Hope’s seven-week training course two weeks ago.
I had the honor and privilege of working with Ian and his Mom every single day for seven weeks in the therapy room. Some of the transformative moments were watching Momma Ian begin to understand WHY Ian struggles to engage with others, interact and follow directions.
During our sessions and class times, we educated Momma Ian on how many children with Autism are bombarded by a magnitude of sensory input and how they struggle to attune to what is relevant. They also struggle to feel where they are in space and try every tactic to self-regulate.
After weeks upon weeks of intense therapy, I’ll never forgot the moment Momma Ian walked into the therapy room with Ian. She looked at me and said – ‘Ian responded to his name when I called him this morning.’
And then the proceeding week – ‘Ian gave me a hug for the first time in his life.’
Then during our seventh and final week of our training course, Ian’s Father and Grandmother attended a week long training session about Ian’s condition of Autism. During this time, we worked with a the whole family on how to communicate to Ian, provide for his sensory needs and how to help him purposefully engage in activities throughout his day in his home environment.
The moment I met Ian, I was captivated by his heart. There is something so special about children with Autism to me because they live in a world where it’s hard for others to understand them. They experience daily struggles that are hard to fully express with words. They are constantly bombarded by overwhelming sensory input. Yet, they are still brave enough to let others help them.
Every time I encounter children with Autism on this side of the world – I’m reminded of the mystery of how all things always work together for the good. My own sister has Autism. And I always remind myself, that if my family was not blessed by my own sister – I would never have become an Occupational Therapist nor would I have started Imprint Hope.
So today, this message is meant to encourage you. All of the challenging and hard moments you are going through always come together for the good! Sometimes the hardest moments are the toughest to embrace, but the most transformative for our own life and the people around us.
Thank you for being on the team of transformation over here in Uganda to combat stigma and empower LIFE for the most vulnerable of children in Uganda.