Shahida and her Autistic Brother Abdul:
‘Autism, Is it really genetic?’ or The Complex Relationship between Genetics and Environment.
Shahida was a few months old, when her 3 year old brother Abdul was diagnosed as autistic. Mum was devastated. Dad did not know what to do. Parents did not understand. Their English was not very good, so they could not read the leaflets they were given, or find out more from books or websites. When I first visited to support the family through home consultations with Abdul, it was chaos. Parents were frantically trying to ‘teach’ their son to be ‘normal’, resulting in lots of screaming and increased puzzling and difficult behaviours.
There was no time or attention left for Shahida, who was left on the settee, in front of the TV or carried around like a bag, while parents were trying to make Abdul do things he did not want or know how to do. At 9 months Shahida was sent to a nursery full time by the local authority. By 15 months, she was walking, eating and sleeping alright. But otherwise she sorted herself out, making no demands on other people for attention or interaction. She did not play. She did not point. She made little eye contact and did not reference other people. She did not vocalise or try to talk. The nursery became concerned. Staff talked about autism. ‘It’s genetic, innit?’, they said, ‘and her brother’s got it, innit?’, they said, obviously unaware of the incredibly complex nature-nurture inter-relationship between genetics and environment, especially when it comes to the huge developmental potential of a baby’s growing mind and brain.
Mum called me to come and see Shahida. We talked about what little children need to develop their personality and communication skills. I explained that babies and little children need time and attention from adults who are interested in the child’s mind. In order to become interested in talking and communicating, a baby needs someone who enjoys talking and playing with her, with TV and all other electronics switched off, and with opportunities to explore the world around them (as described throughout this book).
Things changed. The TV was off most of the time. Mum gave more attention to Shahida. She stopped just handing her the bottle to drink by herself and talked more with her. Dad made time to play with Shahida every day (he is the better player of the parents). By now we had sorted out a routine for Abdul. Parents were more confident. Abdul had begun to interact more with his family. He had become more interested in communication. He started to use some words. His behaviour problems were mostly gone, though he slept late. So parents made time to play with him for 2 hours every evening, when his sisters were asleep.
By the age of 2½ Shahida started to talk. But she was very attention seeking and jealous of her brother getting attention. Parents worried, – until I explained that this was a good thing: it was as if Shahida was hungry for the kind of interested attention she didn’t have enough of, when she was a baby.
Now Shahida is 6 and never stops talking. She has many friends at school, where she is ahead in reading and writing. If anyone said that she was once considered as possibly autistic, people would not believe it, or laugh at the joke.
Abdul too has made fantastic progress. He talks and argues with his sisters, especially Shahida, and complains to mum that ‘Shahida keeps teasing me! Tell her to stop it.’ He too can read and write, attends a football club, is popular at school, and parents are happy with his development. Mum’s only concern is that Abdul only likes chicken curry, but not meat or fish. ‘Is that your only problem?’, I asked in disbelief. ‘Yes.’, she said.
+ same sentence as underneath the others: ‘All names have been changed …’ or whatever it said …