- Carmen Snyders is planning to host a party for special needs children in Eerste River, Cape Town, to mark World Autism Day.
- Her son Carter was diagnosed with autism four years ago, and two years ago he had her in tears when he said "mommy" for the first time.
- More than 100 special needs kids ae expected to be present at the party.
A Cape Town mom is raising awareness ahead of World Autism Day on Saturday by hosting a massive party in Eerste River for more than 100 disabled children.
This will be the first event of its kind in the area.
Carmen Snyders, 37, told News24 that her life changed when her son Carter was diagnosed with autism at the age of three.
She experienced a deep depression.
Autism is a developmental disability that affects the way in which a person communicates and relates to things or people. Autistic people have specific difficulties.
"Carter was your normal average toddler, a very happy-go-lucky kind of kid. But my husband and I then started noticing that he started walking on his toes and stopped responding to his name. Of course, this was very concerning for us, so we decided to take him to a paediatrician," Snyders said.
She said the waiting period to see a neurologist was exceptionally long. Parents often have to wait months, if not years, to get an appointment. Eventually, they managed to get an appointment, but they were not prepared for what they were about to hear.
"In 2018, my child was diagnosed with autism. I'm not even going to lie, I felt like I walked into a funeral. My body went numb. I couldn't believe what the specialist was telling me," she said.
The bubbly mom of two children, aged 7 and 15, said she had no idea what autism was until the day Carter was diagnosed.
"Many of us are uneducated about this diagnosis. I went into serious depression, had to take numerous pills to pull myself together as I couldn't handle the fact that my child would never be seen as normal," an emotional Snyders said.
She added that at the time, she was booked off from work for a month and in that time, she started researching autism on the internet.
Snyders said she woke up one morning and decided she needed to change her life because her son needed her more than ever.
"I started searching groups and workshops relating to autism. Wherever there was a workshop, I would attend it because I needed to educate myself on this. I had to do it because my son needed me and I didn't know how to handle this new way of life," she said.
Snyders was later retrenched at work and decided to invest in herself.
She enrolled for social work studies at the University of the Western Cape.
"I decided to study social work to help families with special needs children. It's been about seven years since Carter was diagnosed, and I've learnt so much about kids with special needs. I am so eternally grateful I chose to make a change in my life and better it by learning to adapt to his needs," she added.
Because of Carter, she decided to host an autism awareness day.
"You always hear about Mother's Day, Father's Day and Grandparents' Day, but one never heard of events or celebrations for kids with special needs, and I wanted to be that mom that brings about change," she said.
She approached Stratford Primary School in the area and they agreed to let her use the venue for the party.
People donated towards the event.
"There will be speakers [who will talk] about autism and disabilities [and] lots of activities for our kids, including a Mr and Miss Hero pageant," she added.
"As soon as I had a venue, I posted on social media, asking for a R10 donation from people as I wanted to give the kids a meal for the day, care packs and party bags. Because, I mean, what is a party without lekker party packets and a toy for each kid?" she giggled.
"Carter is the reason for this awareness day," she said.
The second-year social work student said children who were diagnosed with autism need love and attention, and if she can spoil them for one day and show them that they are appreciated, that's what she will do.
"My son looks completely normal, but he is not. He's disabled, and it's not an easy task. I cannot go to a shopping mall with him and expect him to behave. People stare at us constantly, people tell me he's naughty and I must give him hidings when he misbehaves. But he's not naughty, he's going into meltdown mode because of the sounds around him and the lights. And this is what people don't understand," she said.
Snyders' son has good days and bad days.
Initially, Carter could not speak at all but then he went to school last year, a day she prayed for.
"For years, I used to watch the kids from outside my window walking to school and tears would fall down my face as I asked God: 'When will it be my child's turn to go to school?' But through the grace of God, Carter was accepted into a special needs school in May. I'm so happy. It's any parent's dream," she said,
One of her wishes was that her son would say "mommy", and two years ago he did, completely out of the blue.
"Oh man, what a proud moment that was for me. I don't think I'll ever forget that moment. Now the little man can say certain people's names and is slowly but surely starting to make sentences," she said.
Carter started most of his speaking at school, mainly with the help of his teachers.
"Not enough awareness about kids with autism is being made, and I feel like the government is failing us as parents who have disabled kids. So, if I can help one parent understand what autism is, then I'm thrilled," she said.
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