Single mom Jeanette is raising her teen boy in Modimolle, in the Limpopo Province, and she shared her story with us to help raise awareness of kids with autism and related disorders, hoping that more people will accept them.
Dennis, now 16, was incorrectly diagnosed with ADD at the age of 3. When he was 12, mom Jeanette changed psychiatrists because he was not doing well on certain meds, and “that doctor just kept raising the dose without even having a conversation with him at any time,” Jeanette says.
The psychiatrist told her that Dennis did not in fact have ADD or ADHD, but rather Asperger's syndrome. He explained to them that Asperger’s is a mild type of disorder on the Autism spectrum. "I have Googled and researched everything I can about it just to be able to better understand and listen to my son's needs. I'm still learning years later," Jeanette says.
"The new psychiatrist changed all his meds and my son is doing well on the single tablet he now takes, just to keep him a bit calmer, because he could get very angry sometimes."
"But not since his meds have changed, and he is actually being listened to by his doctor. I found that GP's or teachers quickly diagnose kids with ADD or ADHD, and give them all kinds of rubbish to drink for meds, when they do not have ADD or ADHD," she describes.
Jeanette told us she had always wondered if she had done something wrong in how she brought up her son.
"I was divorced from his father when my son was just about 3 years old, so basically it’s been him and me 90% of the time."
She says that when he spent time with his dad he would come home "different, more agitated and sometimes crying because he felt no one other than me understands him."
Dennis only started talking at about age 5. "Mostly baby talk," his mom says "but eventually he started communicating better. He has his own way of expressing himself and that's what people don't understand about him."
Must read: Local mother on raising a child with autism: ‘Never give up on your child’
She describes his vivid imagination and how other kids or adults don't understand him.
"He will imagine himself being a lion one day defending his territory and the next he will be a warrior hunting animals," Jeanette says.
"He will also frequently imagine he is a trainer at the school of dragons, like the movie How to Train your Dragon. He gets fixated on one thing like his dragons and absolutely nothing will get him to think differently."
"He loves role-play but cannot distinguish between fiction and reality, he can play alone by himself for hours and hours and does not make friends easily because of the very fact that they mock him and don't get to know him before they form an opinion about him," she says.
"He would love to have many friends, but he would rather play with children much younger than him than kids of his own age."
She describes too how he prefers to play with toys for kids younger than his age.
"Many times I would ask if he doesn't want to look at other things, rather than toys then I will see the disappointment because he then feels I don't understand him," she says. "In the end he will buy something to make me feel better but he will never use it."
Also see: Does your child need therapy?
The teenager also feels like he is being held back or not treated well when he has to do normal chores around the house, she explains. Small things like setting the table, feeding the dog, cleaning up after himself, will be a huge thing for him, and she says “he will remember very small details about something for many, many years and talk about it as if it just happened."
Dennis also doesn't have an understanding of time, he knows how to read the time but it does not mean anything to him.
Her advice to other parents with children like Dennis is to listen to your child, and don't expect them to understand their situation because they don't.
"Give them all the love and support you can, teach them that they also have a place and purpose in life and that they were not a mistake that happened, but they are a total blessing in your life," she says.
She also says parents must teach them how to handle bullies and not to become one themselves, but rather to respect everyone. "If there are kids or adults in their environment that treat them different, make them understand that your child is not that different."
Also see: Can ADHD or autism be a gift? Yes! It's in the way we look at it
"My parenting style was to put my son first, his needs above mine. His well-being and health is still more important than mine, always was – always will be. I taught him that I will always be there for him no matter what, he is an absolute blessing in my life and I cannot imagine it without him."
“But what bothers me most, Jeanette reveals, "is the way other people, especially adults, treat kids like my son. He has such a vivid imagination that when he speaks to anyone that doesn't know him, they think he is crazy or something is wrong, because they don't take the time to get to know him."
"I really wish more people will try to understand our kids and treat them like any other 'normal' person because to me he is normal. I love my son just as he is and wouldn't change anything about him at all."
"But," she concludes, "what is important is that I love my son just as he is, and will not change him or anything about his uniqueness for anything or anyone in the world. God blessed me with my son, I get a million air kisses everyday, and thousands of 'I love you moms' every day, what more can a parent ask for?”
What more indeed?
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