The light at the end of the autism spectrum: “I always tell my son that he has a beautiful mind”

UNDP in Moldova
Apr 2 · 6 min read
Olga always tells her son Matei that he has a beautiful mind

She found out about autism when her son, Matei, turned two years old. The knowledge about this spectrum of disorders was limited just to what she has seen in the movies: children who do not talk at all, do not look into their parents’ eyes, swing back and forth, always drawing and never opening their soul.

Olga did not find anything out of this in her child, who was always joyful, with open and curious look, passionate up to an obsession about figures, and not drawing at all.

The turning point was when Matei turned three, when all children around started to talk, besides him.

That open Olga’s eyes and all of the sudden she saw Matei as he really was, speaking a language she did not understand, refusing his parents’ hugs, never asking for food, clothes or toys, and avoiding his peers.

Nicolae, Matei’s father, spends a lot time with him, playing and even teaching him Java Script

“I was crying and crying at the playground when children of his age were calling out for their parents and showing a flying airplane, or when balancing on the teeter shouting ‘higher, make it higher!’. At the same time, Matei was running all over the place without any apparent reason, climbing up the slide and staying there totally disconnected for a long time, or just playing in silence with some stones, closing himself off,” remembers Olga.

It took a long time to obtain a diagnosis — almost one year and a half — and it has been a cumbersome process. And when she saw it written on paper, she did not feel anything. Maybe because she has already understood this, and she resigned with the fact.

She started reading about autism, about therapies, about recovered persons, about the dreadful cases of some children with whom nobody worked. She found out that autism is diverse, that there are no two children alike and it is a wide spectrum — a lot of forms, sometimes very difficult to be discovered. There are situations when children can fall on the floor shouting or may hit their colleagues without any obvious reason, and the parents who do not know what is happening may trigger such behaviors, instead of finding solutions.

Matei’s long road towards rehabilitation started when he ended up at the SOS Autism Association, specialized in supporting persons affected by this disorder. Olga has discovered other parents like her, who have helped her to recover, supporting her and sometimes confronting her with facts and the need to accept the situation.

Matei’s road towards rehabilitation started at SOS Autism association

She understood that there is no treatment for autism, only therapy and the only efficient method is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). It implies establishing the atypical behavioral causes and training the person by encouraging positive reactions. In other words, usually we learn from our mistakes — if we ask the child to point to the cup, and he/she misses the target, next time he or she will indicate correctly the object, because he/she was told he was once wrong and shall remember that. In ABA, the child will be shown the cup as thoroughly as possible, and every lesson fewer and fewer details will be shown until the child memorizes the object. It is obvious that this method implies a lot of work to be carried out by parents, the therapists and the teachers.

The ABA therapy is preceded by a detailed test, which is different based on the age of the child to be rehabilitated. For children from 0 to 5 — the development level is verified, and for those over 5 years old — the life skills are checked. The tests’ results determine the therapy structure according to ABA.

It was also at SOS Autism where Olga found a team that has embraced her. At the beginning, she was just wondering over the halls during the five hours when Matei was at the therapy. Afterwards, she got involved in volunteering work, translating texts from Romanian into Russian. When she found out that repairing works are needed for the premises of the association, Olga got involved in crowdfunding campaigns. Later, thanks to her experience in marketing and studies in journalism, she got employed as communication specialist and is part of the association team for five years.

Nicolae, Matei’s father, had two jobs for a period, for the family to be able to pay all the invoices. Only the therapy and the people accompanying the boy accounted for 12 000 MDL per month.

I have never told Matei that he has autism and we did not discuss about this. But I know that he knows. He understood this rather early, when he was 6 years old, when he approached me once when I was upset and apologized for being ‘like this’. We cried together and I told myself that I will never make him feel ‘like this’. I always tell him that he has a beautiful mind, and he tells me that I am a special mother of a special child,” says Olga, full of emotions.

Matei, at 9, speaks Romanian and English, started learning Russian. În paralel, face muzică și învață Java Script

Now Matei is 9 years old and he attends a public school along other peers of his age, he speaks Romanian and English, and he started learning Russian. In parallel he plays music and studies Java Script. He has made some friends, but he still needs help in networking, so his mother taught him to call her when he ends up in a difficult situation.

The Family has also a girl, Teia, who is 3 years younger than Matei. She is a typical child, and Olga says that their situation is a blessing, on one hand, and twice mode difficult — on another hand.

They have taught their children to play together for one year, and now the relations between them are getting better. They play together an even they form “alliances against the parents”.

“I succeeded to change Matei, but he has also changed me. I have become more patient and I learned to be glad of small things. I did not wait for the first word to be ‘mother’ and I was so happy when a have heard, for instance, the word ‘car’. I do not have any big dreams, I just want to see him grown up, happy and… independent. Any parent would be happy to have such results, but I am afraid to hope. Because I see children of his age and I know that we have a lot of work ahead us. We are on the good path, for sure,” says Olga.

* * *

Olga has helped the SOS Autism Association to obtain a grant from the European Union Confidence Building Measures Programme, implemented by UNDP, to translate and implement the Applied Behavioral Analysis. It is a long process, which includes among others, training sessions of the specialists and development of some sets of materials and adjusted tests.

Read here the story in Russian.

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