We talked to the mother of an autistic child and in this elaborate interview, she tells us what autism is, how she embraced it and what she does to change world view regarding autism. To her, we must start learning to accept any child we have as a purpose child
Tell us more about Claris
My name is Claris N. Angafor. I am married with 2 gorgeous boys. I am originally from Cameroon but currently live and work in the UK. Professionally, I am Data Quality Analyst and I currently work with adults with autism, learning disabilities and other forms of special needs. I hold a BSc. in Business Management, an MSc in Information Systems Management, a postgraduate degree in autism and asperger. I also have a Diploma in Bereavement Counselling and a diploma in Autism Awareness. I am a passionate, compassionate, caring and dedicated individual, an autism Ambassador/advocate and an aspiring author. I am the CEO and Founder of CAN-ABILITIES FOUNDATION and I run an autism talk show.
What is autism all about?
Autism is a Neurological disorder that is mainly associated with lack of social and communication, behaviour skills . Its cause is still unknown but they assume genetics is one of the causes. It has no cure but it can only be managed with early diagnosis and therefore early intervention. So, when an individual is diagnosed with Autism, it becomes a whole lifestyle.
According to the National Autistic society, autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.
Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. If you are autistic, you are autistic for life; autism is not an illness or disease and cannot be ‘cured’. Often, people feel being autistic is a fundamental aspect of their identity…read more via the link below
Is autism having any link with witchcraft? We ask this because anything in Africa appears to have evil forces working on the background?
Those are some of the myths that people have about autism. Remember the definition of autism above? .A “NEUROLOGICAL INVISIBLE CONDITION” Unfortunately, our cultural beliefs and even ancestral beliefs have made us think that way;. We’ve been made to think that anything that happens to an individual that is considered bad or sad is witchcraft-related and this includes disability. I’ll say a big no to this. I do believe that God has a purpose in each person’s life here on earth. It takes a shorter or a longer time for each individual to see that purpose and most often, we start seeing the purpose or having a clearer vision only when we have accepted and embraced our situation or circumstances. I’ll like to point out that acceptance is not a weakness, it is a new way of seeing things and embracing the fact that your life may not be the same again and at the same time, making adjustments to the new way of life.
So in a nutshell, autism has nothing to do with witchcraft, punishment from God or things like that. God’s plan for us includes our calling as special needs parents . Autism may have come as a surprise in my family but I think it wasn’t a surprise to God. So, I will like to call on each and every one of us to stop using names like, ngombe, ogbanje, craze thing , etc to address our individuals with autism. Remember that they are people’s children, parents, family members whom they love so much.
Any future for children with this challenge?
I will proudly say that there is a bright future for all affected by autism. Why I say so is because autism is not a death sentence nor is it the end of someone’s life. Rather, it is the beginning of new discoveries, new methods of learning, new friendships, it’s a completely new way of life only if it is looked at through a positive lens. Wayne Dyer says, “With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.”
Autism has no cure due to the fact that it is
not a disease or an illness to be cured.
But with early and correct interventions, there is a brighter future for
anyone affected in the sense that they will have access to centres or
professionals who will work together with parents to help their children in
developing their self-help skills, social, behavioral and communication skills.
Bear in mind that all people on the autism spectrum learn and develop and with the right sort of support, they can be helped to live a more fulfilling life of their own choosing…So there is a bright future for them especially when parents accept and embrace their children and look for support to help them as early as possible.
When did you start the autism advocacy and what actually do you do in the field?
Actually, autism has been in my family for a long time but I actually started speaking up in public about the importance of autism awareness, love, understanding and acceptance in October 2015… An autism diagnosis is not a death sentence or the end of the world, but as a parent or as a family, it hits one really hard. This is so because when a woman is pregnant, she doesn’t envisage that anything could go wrong with her baby. We expect to have a perfect baby, who will grow up healthy and achieving their milestones as expected of any baby. But when you’re told that your baby has a disability, your life can never be the same again. I went through all of these emotions but when I discovered God’s purpose in my life, I made a conscious decision to turn my pain into purpose and I started realising that there is a lot to learn, there is a lot I can use my experiences for and one of them is to educate the masses about this condition that is so widespread but only a few know or talk openly about it. I also realised that there was still a lot of taboo attached to disability and I discovered that many still see disability as an emotional or sensitive topic to talk about. Hence, some of the reasons why children are being locked up in homes, why some parents are still ashamed to talk about their children with a disability. I used to get very angry when someone says something negative about autism or any disability but at some point, I realised i was only hurting myself. I therefore decided that each person who says a negative thing about autism or persons living with autism is ignorant and needs some form of education. Hence, I started CAN-Abilities Foundation;
In the field, I act as an ambassador and an advocate. I raise awareness whenever and wherever possible… Because It is not physically possible to reach people in all remote areas, I have platforms on social media (Autism Talk Show) where I bring together autistic individuals, parents, professionals, teachers, siblings and anyone who has a special interest in autism to share their evidence based experiences and for all to put our heads together and look for better ways on supporting those affected in our communities. Mind you, there is no community without an autistic individual in it.
You recently attended a conference on autism in Nairobi, Kenya. Can you tell us more about it and how it will benefit Africa especially Cameroon in the long run?
The conference on autism was organised by a newly created autism organisation by Africans for Africa called The Pan-African Congress on Autism (PACA) read more http://www.panafricancongressonautism.org. It is a collaboration between organizations, professionals and advocates of persons with an autism diagnosis across the continent of Africa.
There were four Cameroonians at the conference: 2 from the UK and 2 from Cameroon. As a country, I do think that Cameroon still has a long way to go as far as autism is concerned. I will like to say that autism awareness will be effective in Cameroon when organisations and individual advocates come together, bring their ideas together, discuss measures or steps on how they can work together as a team to support individuals with autism and their families. Without which autism awareness, diagnosis, research will be left in the hands of few individuals.
What motivated you to start the advocacy and what do you gain from doing this? I ask this because many organisations and NGOs come up today just to brand the name and use pictures of victims to lure sponsors and they make wealth out of it…
Hahahahaha!. This question makes me laugh because it’s all true. Remember, there is passion that is inborn and there is passion that has been acquired or imitated. First of all, remember, I mentioned earlier that autism has been in my family for a long time. My motivation is my son. He is my passion, he is my everything. I will do basically just anything to advocate for him and to be his voice. He is 13 and is autistic and nonverbal at the moment. So I am kind of advocating for him so that when the time comes, he will be able to continue the work that I have already started.
I know there are families out there who need someone to act as their voice, someone who will be able to share their story in order to encourage, in order to inspire and empower them. My vision is to see everyone, and every family to be able to stand firm and talk and talk confidently and comfortably about their child.
I later on discovered that most of the negative attitudes towards autistic individuals is due to ignorance and I decided to start educating the masses through awareness sessions and there were so many discoveries along the line and gradually, as a family, we set up a charity called CAN-Abilities Foundation.CAN-Abilities Foundation is a UK based Charity set up in 2015 and registered in 2018 with a mission to ;
relieve the needs of children and those suffering with autistic spectrum conditions and other learning disabilities and their families/carer’s by providing support, practical advice and to raise awareness of these disabilities to help break down barriers particularly but not exclusively in Afro Caribbean communities.
What is you special message to parents of victims and society that do discriminate against them?
Before I answer the question, may I just say let’s not call autistic individuals, victims, please. It sounds too tragic and feels like they are damaged. Anyway, I will first say people should be less judgmental towards parents and individuals affected by autism. When a parent receives the diagnosis of their child, they go through a lot themselves. It usually takes time for them to understand and eventually to accept the situation. So please, parent, take your time. It’s normal to feel the way you’re feeling but seek help for your child and yourself. Get early diagnosis for your child which will eventually lead to early interventions.
Lastly, parents, your child’s diagnosis may have been a surprise to you but it wasn’t a surprise to God. However, we have to love the child before us, he is your child. There is no better or different child than the one that you have, celebrate his quirks, improve on his weaknesses same as you would with any other child. Also encourage his or her strengths.
Get more on autism via the link below https://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/asd.aspx
Interviewed by Awoh Caleb Ndazua