“Useful lessons for an autism mom or dad”
My son is excited to be amongst people but people are not quite so excited to be around him.
I am an autism mom and crowds scare me. Queues simply terrify me. This doesn’t happen to me when I am alone mind you……No. Only when my son is in tow. As such, applying for a passport for him is something I have been putting off for a really long time. Mostly because the registration section at Nyayo House where the passport application process is undertaken, is not known for being empty.
This week the Immigration Department was online on twitter and I just decided to ask them what they could do for ‘tax payer me’. I asked them their opening hours and closing hours and if they work weekends. I then asked them if they could handle a passport application for a boy who cannot queue.
Queues excite my son… He wants to: hug the person in front of us and the person behind us; touch the lady’s handbag because it looks interesting and pinch the baby’s cheeks. He wants to: jump up onto the man’s shoulders and kiss the lady’s cheeks; take a sip of that person’s drink and maybe a bite of what they are eating and if he doesn’t like it, put it back in their bag. You see why I get terrified?
My son is excited to be amongst people but people are not quite so excited to be around him. He is learning social boundaries and I am with great pain and heartache teaching him that the world is an unkind place and that people are not so good… It makes me cry. So anyway, back to immigration… Their response to my enquiry was “Yes, come on over to desk 19. We can serve you!”
My son decided it was time for some autism awareness.
I filled in all the paperwork ahead of time, got documents certified and paid online. We then decided since school was only half day, to go see what we would find at Nyayo House. We explained to the first security person we met that we wanted the children’s desk. He asked us to go straight to the front of the queue. Mothers with kids do not queue. We got our documents inspected and were given a ticket to wait.
I started sweating…
We found Desk 19. My son decided it was time for some autism awareness. He jumped on my back, then got off, said something and started laughing. He was loud and the whole floor turned and looked at us. He then started humming very loudly while hugging me. He left my side and walked up to the man behind desk 19 (Way to go son… do some autism awareness in his face). The gentleman finished serving the ladies in front of him rather quickly. He then said hello, asked if I was the one who had enquired what they could do for me, and then showed us to door 12.
Now you have to understand that there is a whole lot of queuing before you get to door 12. Here I noticed 2 senior officers. The lady we were shown to, asked for our documents, verified everything, processed them and in less than 5 minutes we were cleared for the official photo.
We proceed to the photo room. At first the man behind the camera thinks he can instruct my son who is now in full blown autism awareness mode and has his comedy act all lined up. It’s like a movie that needs to play itself out. The man then switches gears and tells me to move from besides my son and let him be. He begins clicking until he gets the right photo. My son is posing with different facial expressions all this time. Monkey face, clown, squints, eyebrow up, smile, serious face, expressionless… He is clearly having fun. The photo man says he is done and shows me a perfect photo. We exit the building.
All this is less than 20 minutes. 20 Minutes!!!! I tell you I am more than impressed. I am also very grateful to everyone at the Immigration Office who made this easy. We did it without a bribe, without distress and were treated with such courtesy. There is hope. Truly there is….
Some very useful lessons for an autism mom or dad
As I reflect back on our successful passport application excursion, I take note of some very useful lessons:
- When vising a public office, please contact them in advance and let them know you are an autism mom or dad – and what your anticipated difficulties are.
- Get agreement in advance on what accommodations and modifications can be made for you.
- Find an ally in the public office who can help you navigate the system (Guide you on where to go and ensure those you will be seeing know your particular challenge as an autism mom or dad)
- Do not be afraid to try
- Do not underestimate your autistic child’s ability to cope. The more you take them into different situations, the more prepared they will be for independent living.
- Any situation is an opportunity for autism awareness.
Those affected may not exhibit the same difficulties or behaviors.
To shed some more light – Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Autism are general terms used to describe a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them. Autism presents in disorders that are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Because Autism is a spectrum disorder, it means that many of those affected may not exhibit the same difficulties or behaviors. Autistic brains are wired differently and therefore they perceive information differently.
As an Autism Mom I have walked and continue to walk the autism awareness journey with lots to share. Keep it here for more info on our autism experiences, discovery, diagnosis and what is available out there…
Jaki Mathaga is mom to a 10 year old boy on the Autism Spectrum. She heads a Corporate Non-Profit Organization by day and uses the balance of her time doing advocacy for autism. She is President of the Kenya Autism Alliance, a parent led and managed network of Kenyan parents of Autistic Children, Professionals in the Autism field and Caregivers of Autistic children. Twitter @Kenya_Autism
She is also a Fellow of the Vital Voices Leadership Program. An organization that supports women leaders worldwide. firstname.lastname@example.org
BLN Note: “Autistic disorder (also called autism; more recently described as ‘mindblindedness’) is a neurological and developmental disorder that usually appears during the first three years of life.” (http://www.alutfriends.org/)
“Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior. Parents usually notice signs in the first two years of their child’s life.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism)