Gospel singer Esther Wahome has been silent for the longest time. In an exclusive interview with Word Is, the star opened up about parenting an autistic child. Though she has mentioned it in the past, never has she been this open and candid.
“I have always shielded my son from the media, because for me family comes first,” she said. “However, I believe my story can help people out there, so that is why I am speaking out.”
When she first discovered her son was autistic, it was a very scary time for her because she didn’t know what it was. They were alarmed when their son couldn’t speak at two years old, and began seeking various medical practitioners for answers. It took them more than two years to get a diagnosis, and when it finally came, it was a bittersweet moment for them.
Esther said, "The name autism was very heavy on me, when we first got the diagnosis; it was this thing that we didn’t know about it. Before we even knew what it was, we totally leaned on God in prayer, and we got the courage to go on.”
Autistic children typically crave for substances that are not good for them. For Esther’s son, it was milk. He would sleep with bottles of milk and consume large amounts, only to have very bad reactions. After studying the condition and understanding what it was all about, they began a painful process of withdrawing the harmful foods.
“The hardest part was watching my child cry when we began withdrawing the bad foods. Hearing him cry for that which I knew I couldn’t give him was the most painful moment for me. It was so difficult for him to understand why we were denying him something he had always been given freely, but we got through it,” he said.
Over the years, though, Esther has seen purpose in pain, and she continues to share her story to help the families that have autistic children. She says the biggest problem families face is lack of knowledge of what autism is and how it can be managed.
“It can be managed. Today he lives a normal life,” she said. “If you come to our home you wouldn’t even know that he has autism from casual observation. Parents need to understand that it is not a death sentence, it can be managed with the right diet and therapy: it’s just a challenge like any other, just accept, adjust and advance.”
Though it was not really on her wish list, Esther admits that parenting an autistic child has brought joy and purpose to her life. She admits it has brought her family together and given her music depth. Autistic kids are endowed with other supernatural gifts, such as photographic memory, and those gifts have helped her appreciate her son even more.
Behaviour analyst Dr Lincoln Kamau advises, "Before spending time and money and possibly delaying progress, the family of an autistic child should gather information about the various options available. Learn as much as you can, look at all the options, and make your decision based on your child's treatment needs. Among the many methods available for treatment and education of people with autism, applied behaviour analysis has become widely accepted as an effective treatment. If this is not available in your area, consider treatments that target specific deficits in learning, language, imitation, attention, compliance, and initiation of interaction."