Friday, July 6, 2007

Together We'll Survive

"Untaian Duka Taburan Mutiara" by Dyah Puspita, Mizan
Translated by Ratih S. Jatmiko for "Explore 3", LIA

As a single mother of an autistic child, I have faced many difficulties. There were times when I felt depressed and could not help but question my destiny. However, I am completely sure that behind every hardship there is a blessing and all the hardships I went through have made me a stronger and better person. I finally learned that I was not alone. I met many people who have been through the same kind of pain. I believe that when friends with the same problem stick together, they will find strength.

I decided to put my son in a special school but many of the schools rejected him because his case was considered ‘too severe’. Fortunately I finally found a special school in Lebak Bulus with a very cooperative and understanding school administrator. The school was the place where I met my best friend, Aty Zafar. Aty’s son, Farid was an autistic child, too. Aty was a nice person who had a small figure and short hair. Her simple and practical way of dressing made me feel at ease to approach her when we met for the first time. Talking to a friendly, polite, fun and understanding woman like her really made me feel comfortable. We talked and talked like two long lost best friends who had known each other for ages. Spending time with her was very enjoyable. Aty Zafar was the kind of friend I really needed.

I was aware that my only child Ikhsan was autistic because of the symptoms he showed. First, his verbal intelligence was so low that he could not comprehend simple instructions like “Go get your shoes”. He even found difficulty responding when his name was called. Sometimes I even thought he was deaf. Second, he was unreachable; he lived in his own world. He did not feel at ease communicating with people and always avoided eye contact. He did not know how to express his feelings and I had to struggle to get him to interact with others. He came to me only when he needed something—and it was definitely not to interact with me. Third, he had an unusual concentration span. It could be extremely long or unbelievably short. He could look at a certain spot for hours without moving or saying anything but at other times, he also find it stressful to focus on one thing that was not to his liking.

It was a bright sunny day when I took my son to his school. I did not expect I would meet somebody very special, a person whose actions made me realize that I was not alone. She was a mother of two children who lived in Cinere. She had spent three months in Australia to have her autistic child treated. We met, exchanged emails and called each other to discuss the nitty-gritty of parenting an autistic child. We helped and supported each other. She was a friend who made my life easier and she had this dream of establishing a special school for autistic children. Unfortunately, life is often unpredictable. “Ita, they could not help her. She passed away ten minutes ago”, her husband told me on the phone. His frail voice was like lightning on a sunny day to me. My heart was shattered. I was trembling and feeling helpless. I could not believe what I just heard and I was speechless.

It was quite funny how many people mixed us up because of our slightly similar names—Aty and Ita. Now that she was gone, nobody would call me Aty anymore. My best friend’s death affected me so much that I did not feel like doing anything. We always had the urge to talk to each other. Our friendship was really something and when she died, she left a big hole in my heart. For a while I was devastated. I felt so alone. I no longer had the energy to fight for autistic children. Luckily, God sent me other friends. One of them was Adriana S. Ginanjar, or Ina. She got me to pursue Aty’s dream—establishing a special school for autistic children. She even let us use her house for the school. It was finally established in February 2000 and named Mandiga (mandiri dan bahagia—independent and happy).

As a result, I have learned that togetherness—being with other people who understand--helps us survive. God creates differences among people for a reason—to give us a chance to learn from one another. Having Ikhsan as my son, I have learned much about patience, friendship, togetherness and surrender to God. Life is about making choices and living with the consequences. However, sometimes we do not have as many choices and as few consequences as other people do. Still, it is our duty to join hands and make our lives worth living. We, as humans, must trust Him and He will help us be better persons.

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