“There is no awareness. This is the biggest thing. It’s really important to have awareness. Because not only is the child getting hurt, but you’re also hurting the parents.”
This is why Sumreen thinks many South Asian parents don’t open up to others about the problems they face raising special needs children.
“Because people feel embarrassed, right? In reality what happens is in our culture the blaming game gets played a lot. People just take it as gossip. If they took it seriously, then it could be talked about in a very good way.”
But before raising awareness about autism, Sumreen says people need to be made aware about special needs in general.
“One time I was at the airport, and I was standing in a queue. Shahzaib was putting his foot on a belt nearby that was moving. It’s hard to handle both of them, so I was telling this person, ‘Please hurry up, I have an autism card. I’ll show you.’ She just didn’t realize what this was. So I said he’s a special child, and she replied, ‘Just your child is special? Everybody’s child is special! Even my child is special!’”
Sumreen and Rais burst out in laughter.
“It’s a matter of understanding,” Sumreen added. “The problem is in autism no disability can be recognized in the child, so people do not sympathize with you. They say, ‘He looks like a normal child.’”
Their fits of laughter exposed just how strong in spirit they needed to be to overcome the many challenges they faced.
“Parents must be positive,” Sumreen said. “Many parents say, ‘Oh look this happened to us. We are so unfortunate.’ I tell everyone, ‘You are special, that’s why God gave you this hard target. Do what you can do, leave the rest to God.’”
Sumreen admitted that in the beginning it wasn’t as easy to be positive.
“Before I had a lot of embarrassment. People start looking at you with sympathy. At that time it feels strange. ‘Why am I being thought of as poor thing?’ Now I have changed my motive. No, we are the special people and that’s why God gave us a hard target. We are not normal. We, too, are special.”