In 2015, whilst the construction of Ghana’s “Dubai”, the Kwame Nkrumah Circle Interchange was garnering media attention, a child living with autism was killed in a rite of exorcism and it did not make the headlines.
The true identity of the child’s killer was obvious after watching Yesutorko Maanye Daa (Autism Awareness Care and Training) narrate the story the fourth time on the documentary Outlier: Living with Autism in Africa
About two years before her interview was filmed, Yesutorko received a call from a radio station about the death of a child with autism and they wanted her opinion on the case. She narrated the story of how a man whose name or location was not disclosed was convinced by a witch doctor in his town that his four-year-old child living with autism was the cause of his financial woes. The man therefore took the child to the witch doctor to be exorcised. This witch doctor took the little boy into the forest but returned without him. He claimed the four-year-old boy disappeared after the ritual was performed. Surprisingly, it was not a mournful day for the family of the deceased. According to the narrator some of the family members saw the incident as a burden lifted off the family by God. This is just one out of the many cases which goes undocumented in the country.
Africa has a dark relationship with autism. There have been stories of children being killed, abandoned, locked up, marriages being dissolved and recurrent spousal abuse due to the birth of a child with autism. It is evident that people are ignorant of this disorder.
Autism is a complex neurobehavioral condition that includes impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors. Because of the range of symptoms, this condition is now called autism spectrum disorder (ASD).Without the proper diagnosis and information, the unusual mental growth may be misunderstood by most parents and others around the child. In the early stages some parents may think the child is being lazy, and in some other cases, some parents attribute it to spiritual illness and seek spiritual healing. In some rural communities, children with autism are categorized as cursed and mostly killed or abandoned in the deep forest.
We used to think this happened in the olden days but the shocking news of the death of an autistic child in 2015 warns us that these negative incidents are in currency. It is thought that these deaths usually happen in the villages where there are no parent support groups, internet and other supporting establishments for parents with a child with autism.
Just last year, a Ghanaian based in Canada lost his wife and his five-year-old autistic child in a pool accident. The extended family of the deceased spouse made a list of reasons to prompt one to consider a foul play in the death of both mother and son. The couple were going through marital issues which I believe were fueled by the condition of their son and the man’s inability to accept him.
The more I delve into these stories, the clearer “Silence” is revealed as the villain. Without a voice to speak out there would be no information shared, without information there would be no acceptance and without acceptance there would be no understanding. Unfortunately, information on Autism has not reached the majority of people in this country. This lack of information creates a stigma that surrounds those living with autism in Ghana. It is the silence that does the most harm!
Alone, I do not have the resources to build support centers nor the resources to support families with children living with autism. But I have the resources to speak out to create awareness and understanding of autism. People with autism have unique potential and it takes special attention to unlock them.