by Godwin Kizito

As a teacher who have worked in Special Education Needs school as well as mainstream schools, I have gained firsthand knowledge about the challenges parents of children with special needs face. I have also learned how parents/guardians and siblings get affected emotionally, mentally and physically.

Having children with autism can be challenging and impacts families differently. I have worked closely with families who have been in denial of their children’s diagnosis.  I have worked with some African parents who still believe that if a child is autistic, then witchcraft is involved.  This belief prevented them from accessing the necessary service their children need. And they rather prefer to use alternative means such as praying for deliverance from the witchcraft attack. What these parents do not know was that they were making things worse for their autistic children. The process of ‘deliverance from witchcraft’ in churches could be so robust that it could lead to other mental health issues such as anxiety in autistic children. I have read instances wherein parents will resort to exorcism just to free their children from autism. These acts emanate from ignorance about the life-long condition. And until people are fully aware about autism, parents will continue to use alternative methods which they believe will eventually eradicates autism.

The cause of autism is not known. Autism is a complex condition and may occur due to predisposition (a natural tendency), environmental or unknown factors. Most researchers believe that certain genes a child inherits from their parents makes them more vulnerable to developing the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Families with autistic children most times struggle to keep together. This usually lead to divorce or separation. Many families have been torn apart due to having

children who are ASD and the challenges of looking after them. Taking care of non-autistic children is hard enough, you can imagine the demands and sacrifices parents make when they have ASD children. There is also a case of neglect in case of other siblings who may feel that their parents are not giving them enough attention. Additionally, some parents have gone through depression and mental breakdowns due to the demands of caring for an ASD child.  Others have lost their jobs due to the dedication of having to cater for their children. All of these put huge burden on the family, including financial losses which usually lead to poverty. Societal stigma have also lead to worsening health situation for the family involving ostracism and isolation from public life for both autistic children and other family members who endure the shame of having a ‘cursed’ family member.

There is need for more awareness among the immigrants’ populations in the United Kingdom. Cultural values seriously affect acceptance of autism, encourage stigma and discrimination of people with autism and their families. Misconceptions that ASD children are an abomination needs to be eradicated by improving on people’s understanding of autism and related disorders. Parents, especially fathers need to support their spouses to embrace and love their children unconditionally despite the challenges that come with having children who are on the autism spectrum.