On this episode of Sisters Without Shame a friend in crisis says that she is not ready to face the reality that her son might be autistic. Not only has Mary Moeketsi (69) from Pretoria had a similar experience, but she shares some words of wisdom for parents raising autistic children on this week’s episode.
Moeketsi is the regional development officer for Autism South Africa. She knows all too well about the challenges of raising a child living with autism. She had struggled for years before he was diagnosed at age 22.
“There was this other day, when I was bored and was reading a magazine, [an interesting article] piqued my interest. It was about autism,” she says. “One of the things that was quite difficult was when you are told that the person is retarded, and you stay with this person, and you get stigmatisation from society.”
After making calls to Autism South Africa, her son was diagnosed with autism.
Long road to answers
Autism disorders can be very complex to understand, says Moeketsi. This is often the result of a widespread unfamiliarity with the symptoms, especially in cases where children in especially townships were never evaluated during childhood.
“We emphasise when we talk about these conditions that it’s just not a one-size-fits-all, whereby if you’ve seen my son, who’s autistic, then you think that you’ve seen an autistic person. It manifests differently from one person to the next,” Moeketsi explains.
After so many years of visiting health facilities, she was told that he was hyperactive. He could talk and was not delayed in any major milestone of his adolescence.
“My understanding of autism at that time was that an autistic person does not have speech, which was very, very wrong,” she says.
Against all odds
Having to find the best school for a child living with autism was the biggest challenge for Moeketsi.
“We are talking about a child who will be put in school, and people understand that this child has got a challenge when it comes to his sensory perceptions. He will be supported, but this child does not fully understand your social communication.”
Moeketsi says that the focus in society needs to change. “If society could focus on what people living with autism conditions are strong at, then we could all be able to learn something from them.”
She adds that parents need to give them support. “We must give our children support as much as we can. I know it is not easy. It’s quite bumpy. It’s full of humps. Sometimes you even arrive at a place where you feel it’s like a dead end. But we need to push and push.”
Listen to the full interview on Sisters Without Shame
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