By Saeed Shabazz -Staff Writer-
NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – Charles Jones of Brooklyn is a father with an autistic son who has undertaken the task of bringing together men who share that same challenge.
Together the men have developed a video “Autistic Like Me: A Father’s Perspective” and advocacy organization Autistic Like Me LLC.
The documentary “examines the difficult journey experienced by fathers of autistic children. Having an autistic child turns a parent’s world upside down. Dreams are broken and lives changed forever. Men are especially affected because we often do not seek the support network needed to deal with this type of emotional upheaval,” said the group.
“My wife cried when we learned that our son Akhil Ali Muhammad, seven, was autistic. She cried uncontrollably. I, in a moment of anger, asked: ‘Why us oh Allah?’” Dr. Andrew Muhammad, who holds a PhD. in Agri-Economics, told The Final Call. “And then I quickly corrected myself, saying ‘Allah you would not put upon us any burden we cannot bear,’ ” added Dr. Muhammad, a father of three boys.
“I looked at my son and I said, ‘he is a child like any other child!’” Dr. Muhammad said.
Early on he knew Akhil’s behavior required an extra ounce, sometimes an extra pound, of patience. His youngest child was three and a half at the time of the autism diagnosis–which is late. “Couldn’t understand why I was seeing delays in my baby boy’s development; he was always fidgety,” Dr. Muhammad recalled.
It was kind of hard to make the distinction between a child just acting and a child who does things without awareness of what he is doing, Dr. Muhammad shared. “One of the biggest difficulties as a parent is not getting upset–not getting angry–talking and showing love.”
It can sometimes be daunting as small things may elicit an outburst from an autistic child. A member of the Washington, D.C.-based autism advocacy organization Family Voices of D.C. shared one incident with The Final Call via e-mail: “Son would throw a fit if bus would go a little past the bus stop; so the parent made a special flag enabling the driver to stop right at the spot where the young man stood.”
Dr. Muhammad is still working constantly on learning patience, which he says is very important for Akhil’s growth. It is important for fathers to advocate for the right services to aid their autistic children, he added.
“If the services are not provided in your neighborhood, search for where they are,” Dr. Muhammad stressed.
A father has to know that his child is going to have special needs; and one way or another you must make it happen, he added.
Grassroots autism advocates say some of the needed help includes:
– Intense applied behavior analysis to teach a child skills on how to stop doing things that are harmful
– Occupational therapy to address sensory integration dysfunction, such as children unaware of body space or where they are standing, and
– Speech and language pathology, which provides very intense language skills therapy.
“Akhil is starting to talk now; so you enjoy it, seeing him starting to feel good about himself,” said Dr. Muhammad.
In April, the Centers for Disease Control revealed new national figures showing the number of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) climbed 23 percent since 2006.
The CDC estimates one in 88 children has been identified with an ASD, previously the number was 1 in 110; and the disorder is five times more common in boys than girls, affecting 1 in 54 boys.
A CDC spokesman attributes some of the spike to the way children are now identified and diagnosed.
Dr. Muhammad was asked to share thoughts on fathers leaving home after a child is diagnosed with an ASD. “I am not going to leave my wife and say, you deal with this,” Dr. Muhammad said. Being a successful father means loving your family, loving your children, no matter what, he said.
“Bottom line: Get your family in the right environment and don’t feel that everybody you encounter judges you because of your autistic child,” he said. “One last thing, every day see the progress your child is making. I see it in Akhil and I know one day he will grow up and be able to take care of himself.”
Children will be fine if they know they have parents that will love them, he added.