Get subscribed to our newsletter
Get interesting updates to your email inbox.
The 4-year-old Cote d’Ivoire boy couldn’t walk, speak or feed himself. He was so unlike most other kids that his grandparents hesitated to accept him. The slightly older Kenyan boy was so restless that his primary-school teachers beat him, until they discovered he was a star pupil.
The two children reveal different faces of autism — and how society sometimes reacts to the condition.
Videos of the boys appear in “Autism: Breaking the Silence,” a special edition of VOA’s weekly Straight Talk Africa TV program. It was recorded Wednesday before a small studio audience of people who live with the condition or deal with it professionally.
The program’s goal: to help demystify and deepen understanding of autism spectrum disorder. It affects the brain’s normal development, often compromising an individual’s ability to communicate, interact socially or control behavior. The condition can range from mild to severe.
New CDC findings
New findings released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate an increase in autism’s prevalence in the United States.
The agency estimates it affects 1 in 59 children, up from 1 in 68 several years ago and 1 in 150 almost two decades ago. The research is based on studies of more than 300,000 8-year-olds in 11 U.S. states.
Globally, one out of every 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder, the World Health Organization reports. Rates of autism are harder to determine in low- and middle-income countries, including those in sub-Saharan Africa with limited access to clinicians.
Everywhere, “poor people get diagnosed later,” Scott Badesch, president of the Autism Society of America, said in a video overview that set the stage for discussion. “… There’s more services today than ever before but there’s nowhere near the services needed for all who need help.”
A complex condition
Stigma and superstition can heighten the challenges.
In parts of Africa, youngsters with autism “are labeled as devils and they’re not diagnosed and they are not given treatment,” Bernadette Kamara, a native of Sierra Leone who runs BK Behavioral Health Center in a Washington suburb, commented from the audience.
Some people believe the disorder is punishment for a parent’s bad behavior or an affliction that can be prayed away, said Mary Amoah, featured with 15-year-old daughter Renata in a related VOA video.
“They don’t understand this is purely a medical condition. It can happen to anyone regardless of your background,” said Amoah, coordinator at a treatment center in Accra, Ghana, for children with disabilities. “A lot needs to be done in our part of the world in terms of education, acceptance and understanding.”
Researchers haven’t determined the exact cause of autism, though they cite genetic and environmental factors.
Panelist Susan Daniels, who directs the office of autism research coordination for the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, stressed that research supported by the NIH and CDC shows no link to childhood vaccines.
Though the condition has no cure, early intervention can improve the quality of life for people with autism and their families.
Parents need to observe their children closely from infancy, advised Dr. Usifo Edward Asikhia, clinical director of the International Training Center for Applied Behavior Analysis in Lagos, Nigeria.
“When you have a baby at the age of 12 [months] that cannot babble, that’s a signal,” he said. Another is an inability to grasp objects, a sign of low muscle tone common in autism.
Other hallmarks include lack of eye contact or sensitivity to sounds, Daniels said. She added that a definitive diagnosis “can’t really be done accurately until age 2. But most kids aren’t diagnosed by then.”
“Children with autism in Africa tend to be diagnosed around age 8, about four years later, on average, than their American counterparts,” the Spectrum Autism Research News site reported in December.
Call for cultural sensitivity
Some of those indicators could mislead when assessing African children, said panelist Morenike Giwa Onaiwu, a Texas-based member of the Autism Women’s Network.
“In a lot of African cultures, it’s customary not to make direct eye contact. That’s not a red flag,” said Onaiwu, whose parents came from Nigeria and who learned she was autistic only when two of her own six kids were positively identified with autism. “In terms of not babbling? We speak when we have something to say. … Certain things culturally may be missed because of the way diagnostic criteria are viewed through Western standards.”
While autism generally is associated with low IQ, the condition also affects people with high mental abilities.
If they can “express themselves in some way, they’re actually geniuses,” said panelist Tracy Freeman, a Washington-area physician who has an autistic child. “Their challenge is neurodiversity and getting people to recognize their intelligence.”
At one point in the discussion, moderator Linord Moudou noticed Onaiwu twisting a metal coil in her hands. Onaiwu explained that the repurposed Christmas ornament is a “stimming” device for repetitive motion that provides relaxing sensory stimulation.
“It helps to calm me,” Onaiwu said. She has other strategies: “Sometimes you might see me rocking. … This kind of helps me to navigate in the neurotypical world.”
Growing role for governments?
Asikhia said families dealing with autism had few public supports in Nigeria or elsewhere in Africa. Most schools lack training in developmental delays that should be flagged for physicians, he said.
“Those teachers just don’t know what to do,” he added.
Many African countries lack laws ensuring public education or health interventions for youngsters with autism or other developmental disorders.
But Chiara Servili, a child neuropsychiatrist and WHO technical adviser on mental health, sees rising interest. Representatives of more than 60 countries supported a 2014 WHO resolution urging member nations to develop policies and laws to ease “the global burden of mental disorders” and to devote “sufficient human, financial and technical resources.”
Many governments once focused just on improving child mortality rates, she said in a phone interview. Now, there’s “much more awareness not only that they survive but thrive. There is a new focus on early childhood development.”
The WHO is trying to improve supports for family caregivers as well as for teachers, social workers and other professionals in positions to encourage clinical evaluation, Servili said.
With international partners, the organization has developed a guide for caregivers, usually parents, to nurture children with developmental issues. For instance, “we teach them strategies so they can better engage children in play. Sit down at the level of the child. Provide some toys or some object from the house, observe what the child is doing and try to follow the lead,” Servili said. “… Reinforce any attempt to communicate.” (VOA)
Along with the undeniable natural beauty, the Kashmir valley has developed a reputation for adventurous activities like trekking, hiking, and river rafting. Kashmir has maintained its charm, allowing us to time-travel into beautiful destinations which make one forget about the stress and worries of life. The hikes in Kashmir offer adventurers to go on a self-discovery trip through nature's lap over the mountains while taking in the breathtaking scenery that surrounds them on their journey. In addition to the hikes, there are many thrilling adventure activities, like rock climbing, rope climbing, etc. Trekking across the region of mountains and lakes will allow you to experience living in the "Paradise on Earth," and you wouldn't want to return to your regular life after that.
The following are some of the finest hiking destinations in Kashmir:
#1: Kashmir Great Lakes Trek: You will be transported to a heavenly and unseen aspect of Kashmir on the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. In addition to three high-altitude passes and five river valley crossings, this is the only trip in the Himalayas that includes seven alpine lakes, each of which is a stunning shade of green, blue, or turquoise. The extravagance is limitless and breathtakingly stunning every day: infinite blue sky, a larger-than-life backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, colourful meadows overflowing with wildflowers, river crossings are just a few examples of what you will encounter during the trek.
You will be transported to a heavenly and unseen aspect of Kashmir on the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. | Photo by prayer flags on Unsplash
#2: Sonamarg-Vishansar-Bandipora Trek: The Sonamarg-Vishansar-Bandipora trek is a one-of-a-kind experience that provides a glimpse into Kashmir's undiscovered regions. Sonamarg, famously known as the Meadows of Gold, is the starting point for this fascinating journey that is the perfect experience for anyone looking to get away from the frantic tourist rush. This trek is a fascinating journey that allows nature enthusiasts to bask in the splendour of nature's grandeur. The trek goes over many high mountain passes, some as high as 4000 metres in elevation. The hiking route, in addition to providing breathtaking views of the magnificent Vishansar Lake, provides visitors with the chance to see more than 50 alpine lakes.
Sonamarg, famously known as the Meadows of Gold, is the starting point for this fascinating journey. | Photo by YASER NABI MIR on Unsplash
ALSO READ: Top 10 Beautiful Sights To VIsit In Kashmir
#3: Tral-Narastan-Marsar Trek: The Tral-Narastan-Marsar trek is filled with a range of exciting experiences from beginning to end. The hiking trail passes past a waving saffron field, beautiful meadows, and several streams. The path also crosses the Dachigam National Park, where there is an opportunity to see various animal species. Trekkers may take in spectacular views of the high mountains running parallel to them as they cut and pass through Narastan, a Hindu pilgrimage place.
The Tral-Narastan-Marsar trek is filled with a range of exciting experiences from beginning to end. | Wikimedia Commons
#4: Chhatargul-Mahlish-Gangabal: The journey, which passes through beautiful locations such as Chattargul, Mahlish, Kolsar, and Trunkul, provides a peek into an utterly uninhabited wilderness of Kashmir. There are lakes and meadows adorned with flowers along the route as one trek into the alpine wilderness. Trekkers can also enjoy fishing in the crystal clear lakes, camping, or just seeing towering snow-capped mountains while on their journey.
There are lakes and meadows adorned with flowers along the route as one treks into the alpine wilderness. | Wikimedia Commons
#5: Kolahoi Base Camp Trek: The Kolahoi Base Camp trek in Kashmir has been famous since the early 1900s and has been a goal for many seasoned hikers from across the world. While Srinagar serves as the beginning point for the trip, it is in Aru Valley that the actual hiking begins. The Kolahoi Base Camp Trek is a gentle adventure that is ideal for novices and families with children. The breathtaking sight of the peaks rising into the sky on the horizon of the Pirpanjal and Karakoram ranges is certainly worth capturing. It is considered to be one of the most popular treks in the Kashmir valley.
The Kolahoi Base Camp Trek is a gentle adventure that is ideal for novices and families with children. | Wikimedia Commons
Kashmir's natural splendour, with its beautiful valleys and towering mountains, is really unlike anywhere. Trekking through various valleys and peaks while taking in the scenic beauty is something that always calms the heart and provides us with memories that we will remember for a lifetime.
Keywords: Kashmir, Lakes, Alpine, Hiking, Trekking, Treks, Sonamarg, Gangabal, Kolahoi, Chhatargul, Mahlish, Tral, Narastan, Marsar
The Pitru Paksha starts after the Full Moon day, and this day marks the beginning of the waning phase of the Lunar cycle. This event is roughly of 15-day period, and is of great significance. From this day, rituals like Tarpan or Tarpanam and Shradh are carried out to pay respects to dead relatives and ancestors.
It is believed that from the very first day till the last day, the unhappy souls of the deceased return to the Earth to see their family members. So, in order to ensure that the dead attain Moksha, i.e. to get liberation, family members of these souls quench their thirst and satisfy their hunger by performing the Pind Daan, which includes offering food consisting of cooked rice and black sesame seeds. The literal meaning of Pind Daan is the act of satisfying those who no longer exist physically.
For fifteen days, prayers are offered in temples and rituals are performed to help the souls get free from the cycle of birth, life, and death, and attain salvation.
At the same time, the Pitru Paksha is also an important period for people with Pitru Dosha, which means the curse imposed by the ancestors. Hence, in order to ask forgiveness, people perform Shradh rituals and offer food to the crows, who are considered as living beings that represent the dead. It is believed, if the crow eats the offered food, the ancestors are happy and pleased. But, if the crow doesn't eat the offered food and flies away, the ancestors are not happy.
The event of Pitru Paksha is widely observed by Hindus from all over the world, and they perform prayers and rituals in order to gain their ancestors blessings.
At the heart of Bangalore city, a large 300-acre space of lush greenery and heritage stands as a symbol of the city's past, present, and future. Cubbon Park is every child's favourite park, every Bangalorean's haven of fresh air, and altogether, the city's pride.
It stands testament to the past, in terms of the diversity of flora it houses. Bangalore traffic in the recent past has grown into a menace, but the stretch between MG Road and Cubbon Park is always a pleasurable place to stop and wait for the signal to turn green. The gust of wind that blows here, and the smell of mud, coupled with floral scents instantly transports citizens to Old Bangalore, where the weather was fine, and the trees loomed over roads with thick canopies that did not even allow rainwater to penetrate. Cubbon Park is also a historical site, and one of the few remaining monuments of colonial heritage in Central Bangalore. It houses many statues and among them, the most famous is that of Queen Victoria, which faces the St. Mark's Square.
The stretch outside Cubbon Park is cool and well-shaded from the canopy of trees over it. Image source: wikimedia commons
At present, Cubbon Park is known for the cultural hub that it is. It houses Jawahar Bal Bhavan, which is a large theatre that hosts film festivals through the year. Festivals, poetry open mics, and other such shows are conducted on the lawns every Sunday. A small stream runs through the park, where boat rides are held occasionally when the water level is high enough. There is a children's park on one corner, and a government-maintained aquarium, two-storeys tall, with exotic fish.
The Park has been renamed many times in the past. It was originally named Meade's Park, after Sir John Meade, the acting commissioner of Mysore in 1870. It was later changed to Cubbon Park after Sir Mark Cubbon, who was the longest-serving commissioner of the Mysore state. In 1927, the park was renamed after the Mysore Maharaja Sri Krishna Wodeyar, to celebrate his silver jubilee, since the park was developed during the reign of his ancestors. Even though it is officially named Sri Chamrajendra Park, it is still known as Cubbon Park all over the city. In fact, Bangalore was alluded the sobriquet of 'Garden City' because of the rich botanical diversity of this park.
Art Installation at Cubbon Park Image source: wikimedia commons
In many parts of the country, governments have renamed structures, places, and cities to remove traces of colonialism. But, in a city like Bangalore, there is too much evidence of the British rule. Many of the most prominent attractions of the city are known by their British identities despite the change in name. Even the city's name continues to be Bangalore, despite having been changed to Bengaluru. Last year, the British era and its achievements were celebrated in Cubbon Park when Sir Mark Cubbon's statue was moved from the grounds of the Karnataka High Court and placed in the Park.
Keywords: Cubbon Park, Mark Cubbon, British Colonialism, Cultural hub, Garden City