Andrew's Story of Hope

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Andrew Safari was born in May of 1983 in Nairobi Kenya. While he was growing up, Andrew displayed a marked delay in developmental milestones. He did not crawl until he was a year old, for example, and did not walk until the age of two. His family did not worry much about this because Andrew was their first and only child (at the time). They assumed he was spoiled and did not want to put much effort into achieving his goals since he seemed to rely all the time on help from others the family had available to assist him. By the age of three, Andrew had developed little to no speech. He did not master his ABC’s until he was approximately six years old. Eventually, he did reach a few milestones, but at a far slower pace than the average child.

In time, Andrew developed peculiar characteristics such as hand flapping, crossing his eyes, spinning objects, and an obsession with specific toys. He repeated words and sentences he heard, which is often referred to as "scripting". Medical professionals did not know what was occurring with Andrew and had nothing helpful to say. They thought his developmental delays and behaviors were normal and that he would eventually outgrow them. At school, teachers informed the family that Andrew had a learning disability and needed to attend special classes for each subject -- with the exception of science and music. These two subjects were excluded because Andrew seemed to enjoy and excel in them. His mother, Rosemary, knew deep down inside that even though he appeared to be “regular” there was something wrong with her child. With no answers from professionals, she chose to continue working with him the best way she knew how and hoped for the best.

Andrew loved spending time with his baby brother and had a fond relationship with him, but by the age of 13 he began to deteriorate. He chose to be alone instead of being with his peers. He began to ignore his brother and covered his ears whenever he cried. By age 15, Andrew lost nearly all the speech he had acquired. He cried a lot, threw tantrums and did not sleep for days on end. Due to his condition, he was unable to attend school and his mother was forced to quit her job of ten years to care for him. He had lost all social interaction and the family was DEVASTATED. Andrew’s maternal grandmother also retired from her job at that time, and came to live with the family. It became a desperate search for answers.

Fortune finally knocked on the families’ door when a visiting professor, Dr. Forbes from the United Kingdom, visited Kenya and Andrew became one of his patients. The professor diagnosed Andrew as being "on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)". Autism???? The family had never heard of that and it was time to start the real search for answers. Andrew’s teachers at school did not know about it either. The family began to search on the internet and read books on autism and, slowly, the puzzle began to come together. Autism had been the issue for all these years! By this time, Andrew had no speech. He spoke to no one and did not make any eye contact. ALL WAS GONE!!! THE ANDREW EVERYONE KNEW SEEMED LOST COMPLETELY!!!

Felicity Ngungu, Andrew's grandmother, took it upon herself to search for answers. She went public on national television and in print media, after which a few parents turned up who believed or knew they had similar situations. Felicity's search for answers blossomed into the formation of the Autism Society of Kenya. She vowed that no other child and their family would have to go through what her daughter and grandson had been through. All this time, Andrew had attended private schools, which seemed to be the only places where answers could be found. Andrew’s grandmother learned from her grandchild’s situation and realized the need to lobby the government about education for Kenyan children with autism. She believed what Andrew had been through at school had made his symptoms worse. Due to others teasing him, he had developed low self-esteem and began to shut himself off from the world around him.

By 2003, the Autism Society of Kenya was formed and today, a decade later, education for children with autism is available to all. In the past, many Kenyans associated autism with witchcraft, which in some cases resulted in the death of the individual with the disorder. Today, most of Kenyan society has begun to understand that autism is not due to these beliefs. Thanks to Felicity’s persistence, there is now far more awareness about ASD and, though it has been slow, it is reaching the people.

Today, Andrew has relocated to the United States of America with his mother and brother. He continues to receive services and is improving. He has regained some of his speech and is still working to regain a lot of his lost skills. His family, peers, and advocates believe in him.

In Andrew, there is an inspiring story of hope for everyone affected by this condition …..

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  • ASK is an NGO seeking to raise awareness about the existence of Autism in Kenya and sensitize the community about issues of Autistic persons.
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