David is an 11 year old boy who lives with Down syndrome (DS) and Autism (ASD), as well as some other challenges. He was diagnosed with DS shortly after birth, and with ASD at 15 months old.
His ASD diagnosis came after he lost speech that he had already developed, started rocking and doing repetitive behaviours, started stimming and refused eye contact. At the time we were not aware that with this combination of challenges, DS would feature very low on the list. The ASD played a far more significant role in his developmental delays.
When David was 6 years old we were told that he was unteachable, untrainable, and uneducable due to his DS and ASD. We were pointed in the direction of an organisation that helped to teach children with ASD and to give guidelines to parents on the importance of diet, consistency in discipline, and how to work and teach children with ASD. This was a significant turning point for us.
The way we worked with and taught David changed, and within weeks the difficult little boy who would run away at every opportunity, stimmed (flapped his hands) all the time and did very little for himself, became an easy child who started speaking and was able to do a lot more for himself. He started making his bed, dressing and undressing, and making simple lunches and snacks for himself.
David is now 11 years old. He has completed 3 Cape Town Cycle Tours (The Argus) as a disabled rider in a buggy attached to a bicycle. He does maths and is reading simple books. He plays on the playstation with his brother, argues with us, and has a great sense of humour. He enjoys going to church and is loved by everyone who knows him. He even does talks on living with DS and ASD at schools and churches. This young boy now teaches others about acceptance, differences and love. ASD may be his greatest challenge, but it also has made him who he is.
Is it easier? It is still challenging. We still have days when it feels like he is impossible to handle, that he doesn’t understand and when he flaps his hands, but these days are fewer and far between. These are the days when we can look back and appreciate how far we have come. When we are grateful for the people who guided us, who had expectations of David. Who believed in him and didn’t give up. DS and ASD is a challenge that manifests in many different ways. Not everyone’s story is like ours, but there is always hope. Keep strong and have courage, your child is not less, just because they are non-verbal or doesn’t appear to understand. They are just unique and need to be understood and taught in their own language.
In the photo is David and his brother, Jayden