Autism in Zimbabwe:  Hope, Don’t Let Go!

There are about 200,000 people in Zimbabwe living with autism. There is an urgent need to raise public awareness about the condition as many people with ASD and their families are stigmatised by their communities.

Because of their unusual behaviour, most ASD children cannot be accepted in schools. Children in Zimbabwe affected by ASD are thought to be cursed or possessed by evil spirits. Parents are also having the role in failing to manage or control their ASD-affected child.At the present time, there are eight children enrolled at the school and eight members of staff, so there is a one-on- one ratio. All of the children are severely affected by

ASD and are non-verbal. Members of staff include an occupational therapist, a psychologist, a nurse aid, a rehabilitation technician, and an expert in Early Childhood Development (ECD).

Taking an example from Harare, the case of Gordon Chinaire who is the current executive director of Pathways while Flora Chinaire is a non-executive trustee and Secretary of the PVO. Gordon and Flora first realised their son Tawana, now 16, was not reaching developmental achievement like smiling, returning his parents’ gaze, cooing or babbling as early as when he was one year old. At the age of four, after considerable testing, behavioural assessments and consultations with psychiatrists and pediatricians, he was diagnosed as having ASD.

A student takes part in the outdoor activities at Pathways Autism Trust, in Harare, Zimbabwe.
(Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe)

Flora accepted the diagnosis but Gordon was in denial for a few years and had much time to reach the terms with the diagnosis. Today Tawana is one of the eight children who receive educational and therapeutic care at Pathways. He is learning a range of skills he needs to manage with his environment.

Often the parents of Autistic children split up due to the pressures and demands of raising a ‘special’ child but for Gordon and Flora it seems to have fortified their relationship as they share the responsibilities of caring for Tawana. They worry about who will take care of Tawana when they become too old or pass away.

A student takes part in the outdoor activities at Pathways Autism Trust, in Harare, Zimbabwe.
(Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe)

They maintain a positive view for their son and encourage other parents to adopt a consenting attitude towards their Autistic child and to never put borders on his potential.

The Chinaire’s have observed that each child is talented with their own unique capabilities. Now, Pathways works like a normal school with set hours every day and school holidays. Pathways Autism Trust is still in its early phases but there are strategies to develop a recess centre with full boarding amenities in the future.

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