Stories From the Heart: The Aftermath of a Mother’s Decision

On July 22, 2010, a news story broke in Dallas, Texas of a 30-year-old mother of two young children who had strangled her children because they were Autistic. Zain Akhter, 5, and his sister, Faraal, 2, refused the bathroom cleaning chemicals mom attempted to make them drink . Their mother Saiqa Akhter then took a wire and strangled both children killing Zain immediately. Faraal was in a coma and died the next day. Saiqa faces two counts of capital murder. In Texas if a murder of a child under the age of six occurs it is directly a capital murder.

The news reports lack detail about how Saiqa determined her children were autistic. Saiqa claims that Zain showed signs of Autism. However, Saiqa does not establish proper identification of Autism by a medical professional. It was a possibility Faraal would also have Autism. Again, here was nothing stating in the news reports of diagnosis of Autism.

Saiqa and her husband Rashid Akhter emigrated from Pakistan in the 1990’s. The recording of the 911 call released demonstrates patent issues with Saiqa’s English skills. However, she did seem to have a firm grasp on the English language.

With that said, questions remain as to why Saiqa believed her children had Autism but did not seek medical and mental health services for her children. The number of supports available to families with children diagnosed with Autism is available. There are agencies available to provide respite care at the very minimum.

Most children with Autism are able to obtain developmental therapies and assistance with their primary care needs taken care of by a support staff. Physical, occupational and speech therapies can be present with detection by a medical professional. There are groups online and in person that help parents of children with diagnosis of Autism which offer advice, techniques, tips and friendship often needed by the main care-taker parent.

The aftermath of this news story is more than just the sadness of two young and innocent children losing their lives. The answer is how this affects the perception the public has on children with diagnosis of Autism. Children with diagnosis of Autism do not deserve to be killed because they are ‘not normal’ as Saiqa wanted her children to be. Children with diagnosis of Autism are as valuable to society as children with juvenile diabetes, vision or hearing problems, physical abnormalities and learning disabilities. Their contributions may not be immediately obvious to the world until they take the time to get to know the child.

For anyone, a mother included to take a life of a child diagnosed with Autism is unacceptable.

Autism awareness includes being aware of what the signs and symptoms of Autism are.  It also includes recognition of how valuable they are to society.

By Dannett Frey

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: You Are Not Alone

You are not alone– These words may have several meanings depending on where you happen to be in the process of accepting your child’s diagnosis.

If you have recently learned the facts regarding your child’s condition, I’m sure you feel like the only parent in the world that has a child with a disability. You’re doing everything and anything to just get you and your family through these days; you’re in what I call “survival mode”.

Your days are spent with multiple doctor appointments that you don’t completely understand, you’re trying your best to focus on all of terminology that professionals are using to describe your child, and at the same time, you are doing your best to stay strong for your entire family. When you are in public, doing the things that you did before the disability, everything and everyone around you seem a little surreal, and you’re wondering how the world can possibly be going on when your world has stopped.  You think to yourself, don’t all these people see this great big sign on my forehead that says “parent of a child with a disability”?

You are not alone.

Or maybe you have been at this for a little while and you have started to accept the fact that the child you dreamt of before he or she came into your world is not the child you are caring for, and that’s OK—you’re doing everything in your power to get the services your child needs, at any cost–you are willing and ready to pay.  You’re sacrificing everything you knew before this precious human being came along, and you don’t mind one bit.

You are not alone.

And maybe you are a special parent that has had a few years experience, and you know that you know that the person your child is today is the person he or she was meant to be. Your child, because of his uniqueness, has touched the lives of so very many people that he has had contact with over the years, but the life he has changed more than anyone, is yours.  This beautiful person that you have been caring for has reshaped the make-up of your heart.  You are continually growing as a person because of all the challenging life experiences you have had the privilege to learn. You were chosen to be a special parent and you are so very proud of the parent that you have become thanks to your very special child.

You are not alone.

Wherever you are currently in raising your child, I feel it is so very important for you to know that there have been so many special parents that came before you that you can learn from, but more importantly, that there are many new special parents that you can encourage, reassure and support like no one else in their life can.  I feel we have a responsibility to seek each other out through support groups and organizations-local and on-line, and through our neighbourhoods and schools.

Regardless of the name of the delay or disability, the feelings are all the same, and it is vital that we all help one another, so whenever we need to hear the words you are not alone, someone will be there to say them.

By Maria Spencer

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: Paris, With New Eyes

I am a 49 year old man diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, living in the UK, and I have just returned from my first trip abroad in 8 years. It was a three day stay in Paris with my girlfriend. Not much to remark about there, one would think. But my last trip abroad had also been a trip to Paris in 2002 , and since then my world has been totally transformed.

Back in 2002, I was married, in full-time employment and most significantly, a heavy drinker. I had never heard of Asperger’s Syndrome. The following year my marriage broke up and I lost my job, due mostly to my drinking. I used alcohol to deal with the overwhelming sense of anxiety which I had had since childhood. I had also abused tranquilizers to help cope with the levels of fear and stress I experienced in day-to-day life.

After two emergency hospital admissions for liver failure and alcohol poisoning, I had two pieces of fortune. I got a place in rehab and also heard of AS for the first time. It seemed to be a perfect description of both my problems and my abilities. The CBT I received at the rehab, helped me to stay sober to this day, along with my understanding of myself. I received a formal diagnosis and moved to a coastal town to study and start over as a sober man, aware of being on the spectrum.

I now help deliver Asperger awareness training, write and have had a book published about my experience: ‘Asperger Syndrome & Alcohol: Drinking to Cope?’  I discuss how I used the alcohol as a tool to deal with the intense anxiety I felt in dealing with day-to-day life. I have met many people who have relatives or friends with AS and who also have substance misuse problems, and I explain to them that when you understand the nature of your condition, it is simpler to find coping strategies.

I have downsized my life considerably. I used to work part-time and am now self-employed. As a sober person I am not using any substance to deal with my anxiety, therefore, with the help of friends and family, I make sure that I can avoid anxiety-inducing situations wherever possible.

On my recent trip to Paris, my partner acted as my buffer and interpreter to the strange world I was in. Previously, when I drank, a trip to Paris passed in a blur. Now, although still very anxious, I could appreciate the beauty and magic of the city. I find that both the therapy I received, as well as the knowledge of my condition, enabled me to live a new and fulfilling life. I know others can, too.

By Matthew Tinsley

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: Perfect As They Come

When I was pregnant with my firstborn, we had done everything to ensure that it all went perfect. The prenatal checkup, all the doctors’ appointments, and genetic testing for disorders we were concerned about. Everything was perfect.

After 13 hours of labor, my daughter arrived. Since she’d gotten wedged around the pubic bone and took two hours to get out, there was a whole team of doctors there to make sure she was OK. And she was OK, but she had two severely clubbed feet.

The doctor described it as a “packaging defect”. It wasn’t genetic. It wasn’t environmental. It was merely a symptom of how she was positioned in utero. That didn’t make it any easier. My precious perfect firstborn she had golf-club shaped feet at 90 degree angles to her legs. We sat through the lectures and advice. We took her to her first orthopedist at 5 days old. She was in corrective casts up to her hips before she was a week old.

Being a January baby, we managed the first weeks fine. She wore long dresses and onesies that concealed the feet. With spring, however, she couldn’t wear so many layers. Trying to avoid stares, questions, and people’s ignorance.

The worst moment was when I took her for a walk at the mall, and a nice matronly woman started cooing at my daughter. My daughter beamed up at her. The woman then said, “Oh, and let me tickle those cute little toes.” Her face changed when she pulled the blanket back and saw the two casts. “Oh, my God, how on Earth did you break these baby’s legs?” And everyone in earshot stared at me. I stammered that she had a specialist, it was doctors’ orders, but she had already marched off from what she deemed an abusive mother.

After that I later took to carrying my pediatrician and orthopedists’ cards with me to whip out if confronted again. If they had questions, they could ask the doctor. Fortunately, no CPS or police ever came by. After six months of corrective casts and another year of corrective shoes, my daughter’s feet were pronounced “fixed”.

She learned to walk late, but was running and climbing everything within weeks. She is now an active acrobatic two year old that has climbed everything in the house but the fridge. Unlike other birth defects, ours was “fixable”. Downs’ Syndrome can’t be undone. Heart defects require terrifying surgery and constant worry. In that regard, we are utterly blessed.

It wasn’t until my son was born that I realized how different it was to have a “normal” baby. It wasn’t until I had him screaming that I realized the depression I’d had with my daughter. And how much easier it was to take him into public, without the fear and worry that taking her into public had wrought.

He was a perfect baby with ten fingers, ten toes, and all the body parts in the right place. It’s such an amorphous ideal. Yet we don’t realize how much can possibly go wrong until it does. And how precious that health and vitality is until you realize how tenuous it is.

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: Lessons from the Classroom

As I sat in the corner of a classroom alone and ignored on my first day of what was supposed to be a “wonderful experience”, I began to think that maybe I had been wrong to sign-up for Psychology Practicum. I had looked forward to taking part in Practicum- a “hands-on experience” that would bring the concepts I’d been learning about in my Psychology class to life- ever since my older sister had participated in the program and told me what a wonderful experience it would be for me.

By spending an hour of my day in a classroom for mentally and physically disabled students, I imagined that I would single handedly change the lives of several children. I would teach them to count, recognize colors, and I would give them immeasurable amounts of love and attention. Visions of the lessons I would teach and the good works I was about to perform had danced in my head as I wrote my name on the Practicum sign-up list.

I could not have been more wrong about what, or who, would be taught. The first day didn’t live up to what I had envisioned the experience to be. I was placed in an elementary school class of seven boys, but they were not as affectionate as I had hoped. They didn’t shower me with hugs and kisses. In fact, they barely even acknowledged me. I could not imagine how I was going to teach them to count if they would not even tell me their names.

As I headed for my car I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Not one single boy had so much as looked at me, and I was starting to wonder why I hadn’t just stayed in Home Economics, where I could have learned to bake cookies and gotten an easy A without the burden of writing daily journal entries about a bunch of children who did not know or care about my existence. I was wrong again.

The next day their little faces looked at me when I walked in the door, but they soon resumed their games of basketball and toy cars. On Wednesday they began to warm up to me and curiously wander towards my corner. By the last day of the week a little boy named Chandler ran up when I arrived and said, “My Anna is here!” Needless to say, by the end of my first week working with those seven boys, I was in love.

The ice had been broken, and every week after that, I grew closer and closer to “my” kids as they opened up to me more and more. By the end of the semester when I got there each day the kids would not stay in their seats because they were so eager to greet me at the door.

When I would leave at least one child would always run after me and beg to come back to school with me. They may have had physical or mental handicaps, but I still marvel and the unbelievable grasp they had on what was really important in life.

Though none of the children were physically blind, they were all blind to outside appearances. Though none of them will ever be able to obtain a degree in psychology, they were all amazingly sensitive to the emotional needs of others. Though many people may pity them, they were some of the happiest, most joyful people I have ever known.

Children with special needs are amazing, but that is not to say that working with disabled kids is always an easy job. It requires lots and patience and understanding, as I learned during my time in a special- needs classroom. However, for the special people who teach, parent, and befriend such children, the rewards far outnumber to trials.

Though some days I was ready to scream when I left the classroom, my heart was completely stolen. No matter what frame of mind I was in when I entered the classroom, by the end of the hour my spirits were completely lifted. One horrible day I was on my way back to school when I recognized the vehicle of my classmate and friend Andy in a ditch surrounded by police cars.

A few days later, the boy who I had gone to school, summer camp, and church with since I was just a toddler, died. When Andy passed away everyone in our entire school was devastated. His mother was our assistant principle, and every teacher, janitor, and student knew Andy’s mischievous ways and warm grin.

Afterwards I was so sad each day when I went to class. I never mentioned anything about Andy to the boys, and even if I had told them in words they would not have been capable of comprehending what I was telling them. Somehow the boys just seemed to know that I was sad, and they knew just what to do.

During the weeks after Andy’s death the boys were on there best behavior for me; I never had a single behavior problem. I also got more hugs from them than I had gotten in the rest of the semester combined.

I do not know if Xzavier will always remember his colors, but I know that I will remember the feeling I got each time he would hugged me, or asked me to play “baket bull” with him, even though he rarely got the ball in the hoop. He taught me that no matter what your disability is you can still smile and radiate with personality.

Xzavier cannot speak because he has a tracheotomy in his throat to help him breath. However, he has taught me not to judge people by what is on the outside. The first time I saw him I saw a little boy with a chipped front tooth and an incision in his throat that sometimes leaked mucus. I no longer see the tracheotomy, but instead I see a beautiful boy who laughs uncontrollably at the mention of “calling his mom” to report that he “pooted” at snack time.

Looking past outside appearance is just one of the many lessons those boys taught me. To explain everything I learned from them would be impossible, but I do know a few things for sure. I know that they have made an impact on my life that will last forever.

I also know that no text book could have even begun to teach me the lessons I learned from them. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to learn from seven understanding and beautiful boys. They taught me lessons no one else could have, truths that have strengthened my character for a lifetime.

Author Unknown


* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

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