A Ghana News Agency feature by Samuel Osei - Frempong
Tema, March 6, GNA - On his second birthday, children in his neighbourhood formed a circle around him and celebrated Yaw with a loud birthday song.
He grinned and mimed along because he could hardly speak. He cut his birthday cake and took a slice for himself leaving the table to be alone.
His life began on a dangerous path as his birth was prolonged and labouring. An ignorant nurse forced the mother to have vaginal delivery. The consequences were dire; Yaw struggled to take his first breath. The nurse bolted knowing the harm she had caused. It all happened in one of Ghana’s best Military hospitals ten years ago.
Yaw was cared for by nannies when the parents had left for work. Occasionally, they returned to see wounds on his head and other parts of the body. The pressures of time, work and the thoughtlessness of the nannies around Lashibi forced the parents to take him to a nearby crèche owned by a friend of the family. They thought that at least with the presence of many children and child minders, he would be relatively safe until they returned home after battling the long and winding traffic on the Spintex road.
Yaw turned out to be different and for that reason most of the teachers and child minders harboured deep dislike for him. But as there is someone for everyone, one female teacher took it upon herself to nurture and provide the care that he needed. He got close to this young woman who learnt how to communicate with this strange boy.
She soon realised that boy was an expert at solving puzzles and other complicated jigsaws and yet he was not liked by many because he was different. His fair skin, brown curly hair and cute face made him the most handsome in his class but for many he had committed the worst sin of not behaving like other children.
Sometimes, when he sat on the veranda to wait for his mother, the children taunted him in the full glare of adults. The hate and resentment for him reached a crescendo when he was left naked with faeces on his buttocks on a cold December evening. The attendants occasional splashed water on him and when he cried, they laughed and clapped. As they embarked on this sadistic adventure and got totally consumed by it, his mother gently walked into the fray and took his boy home, never to return to the school.
The search for medical help took the parents to a doctor at Korle-bu Teaching Hospital who had been recommended as one of the experts on the Asperger and Autism spectrum. His unhelpful services came at a high cost. He run his private clinic outside the hospital and had a circle of friends and non-governmental organisations who also pretended to have knowledge on the condition. From Agbogba through East Legon to Adabraka, their influence is felt all over the Accra/Tema Metropolitan areas. Through well thought out strategies, the cabal puts unsuspecting parents in a leash of dependency and take turns to walk them through the maze of monetary and psychological exploitation.
As if those issues were not depressing enough, both parents had other battles to fight at work. Both worked in the public service but had superiors who suddenly turned enemies when they became aware of their son’s condition.
Mr Kofi Amponsah, whose son is also autistic says” it invites haters and scornful people. Guess that is why they are very special.”
Yaw’s mother was subjected to oppressive discipline at work where her superiors were female lawyers. They were infecunds, also regarded as social disables. In most Ghanaian societies, women who are childless are not accepted as worthy women. In fact, marriage is not consummated by having sexual intercourse on the wedding night but by giving birth to a live baby. But instead of supporting a mother who only needed four hours a week to take Yaw for speech therapy, they authored a contentious crime that was not well scrutinized to force her out of the service. They found a perfect way to show resentment for motherhood and children with disability. In the case of Mr Amposah, he lost his wife to a spiritualist consulted to help his son. The woman has since left their plush home for the cold floor of the fetish’s shack.
In a country where there is virtually no well-structured public support for autistic and other disabled children, the will to survive is the most important instrument needed to traverse cultures and systems premised on primordial beliefs which place more emphasis on superstition and seclusion rather than inclusion and innovation.
Last Sunday, he stood at the entrance of his local Anglican Church after service savouring the ravening clouds sweeping the skies. Kwadwo, his younger brother, ran to him with a smile. He carried him across the church yard as they shared a good laugh. Yaw is in Primary Four.