The house was always buzzing. Mohammed Rizvi, then all of three, would howl through the day – when it was time to eat, when it was time to sleep, when it was time to cut his nails.
In the evenings when Rizvi would go down to play with other children in the building, they’d run up, hide their toys and ask his mum, Seema Raheem, to take him away. “The children would not play with him, they would say, ‘Take him away, he’s disturbing us’,” she recalls in an interview with Gulf News.
When Rizvi was taken to public places – stores or restaurants – he would run; right up to stranger’s tables, into other aisles, away from his parents who would race to keep up.
For a while Seema thought the issue stemmed from an accident a year earlier, when Rizvi had run into a swaying swing. It had smacked into his head a few times before the child was fished out of its way. The doctors hadn’t found anything amiss at the time but now, she wondered, if it had indeed done some damage.
Didn’t know any better
Seema had given birth to her son when she was 20, away from family and friends, in Dubai. “I was a young mother… I gave birth here and I didn’t know much about kids, it was a new experience for me. It was just me and my husband here. We thought only the child needed to eat at a proper time, sleep at a proper time, his growth should be good – his height, his weight – that’s it. We used to monitor that. But there are other important things (milestones), which we didn’t know about,” she says.
When Seema met her sister-in-law, who was in Abu Dhabi and has a similarly aged daughter, she was stunned at the differences she saw: this child could talk and was responsive; hers was not. He would babble, not make eye contact and wouldn’t even twitch when called.
When the family was in India for the summer, they took Rizvi to doctors who deemed him fit even as relatives proposed more sinister, supernatural causes for what they perceived as his misbehavior.
The ‘bad’ behaviour continued to pile up – he wouldn’t eat except when a commercial was on, he’d jump on birthday cakes and tear paper when taken for nursery interviews. Fed up, the parents raced through the city from one doctor to another until someone proposed an alien term: Autism.
Source: Autism Research Institute
Cost concerns pushed Seema, who by this time in 2014 was pregnant with her second son, to head back to India, where the pediatrician took one look at the hyper three-year-old and confirmed the diagnosis. The tests that followed only sealed the prognosis – he would need speech and behavioural therapy.
Finding a therapist
As Seema’s husband came back to Dubai, she stayed with the kids, her mum helping her through the last stages of pregnancy and during the fourth trimester. “After my delivery, on day three, Rizvi stopped eating, stopped listening to my mum. It was a difficult time,” she recalls.
They found a therapist who was willing to teach at home, only he came with his own baggage. “He started saying, your other son may also get Autism, who will take care of him after you die? He was scaring me,” she says, adding that all the stress resulted in a tailspin of emotion – at one point, she says, ”I thought, ‘I don’t want this child, he’s so difficult’.
“I used to take him to different therapy centres, nothing worked. I used to take him 20km from my place weekly four to five days for four years.
“Later on, in the Spastics Society of Karnataka, people used to train and when they saw us, they said to me, ‘Why don’t you also do the course?’ When I worked with him, Rizvi showed a lot of improvement – so I did the courses. It made me realise that if the parent is motivated, half the job is done. You have to say, ‘I will do anything for my child, make any sacrifice’. And there are miracles,” she says.
Seema stayed in India with her sons for seven years while her husband worked in Dubai; she has only recently moved back with a much reformed child.
“He started eating by himself last year. Till then I was feeding him. For the past three months, he’s been cutting his nails by himself,” she says with pride.
“Fortunately, the school he goes to is very inclusive…for Maths and English they have a learning support teacher. The feedback of the teachers is he is a very corporative child, he answers himself, he’s very eager to answer, the only thing is writing, which we are working on,” she adds.
Of course this has meant some aggravation for her younger son, who at seven-and-a-half years is only just beginning to grasp how different his brother is, how he can help.
In the early days, she explains, Sarem would wonder why his mum and big brother would go out for hours without him, why she’d lock the door as she taught him, why she’d treat Rizvi like porcelain. “Now also, there are also questions. He says, ‘Make big brother understand he shouldn’t do this’.” The only thing, she says, she can do is reiterate over and over that his brother is special.
Seema admits that she’s been so focused on the older son, that the younger one was raised for the first few years of his life by her mum. “I just gave birth and I used to breastfeed, for my younger son, my mum handled everything. I was only after Rizvi, make him brush, feed him. For my other son, my mum used to do everything,” she says.
“As a result of my negligence – he’s become a little bit of a naughty child,” she laughs ruefully.
Today, Seema and her husband are confronted by a novel problem – she calls it ‘fancy parenting’. “In my family, everyone has fancy gadgets – iPhone, ps4 – and Rizvi wants that. She cries and yells for it. I don’t think it’s his age for these things,” she says.
The journey so far has been tough, says Seema, but it’s brought her to herself. “I got my own identity. I was very timid, I was very shy – I used to never go out of the house. Because of Rizvi, I knew all the roads. I was independent – I was travelling in metros, in buses… I started my course, which helped me a lot. We were 14 in a batch; beautiful ladies; they supported and counselled me. I was pampered,” she says.
“I had no interest in myself – I had stopped wearing proper clothes, make-up or going to the salon when I joined the course. I didn’t want to live - my only focus was Rizvi; to make my son independent. They helped me focus on myself, be happy.”
Today the home is buzzing – sometimes with cries, yes, but most of the time with laughter.
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