As efforts to raise awareness about autism continue worldwide, the biggest concern of some families in Turkey remains what will become of their children when they can no longer look after them.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency in an interview on the annual World Autism Awareness Day, marked internationally on April 2 since its adoption by the UN in 2007, Bulent Kirgoz related his family’s story after his son, Yekta, had been diagnosed with autism.

Devoting his life to Yekta, Kirgoz said he was trying to do his best for his son’s education and upbringing but worried about his child’s future.

“The most important question is what will happen to our children after we die? We can look after them right now, but we’re getting older, too. We don’t have the energy we did ten years ago,” he said.

A retired chemistry teacher, Kirgoz said that a while after Yekta was born in 1996, they went to see a doctor upon the warning of a friend, who was also a doctor, after which their child was diagnosed with autism.

Having sent his son Yekta to many educational institutions for children with autism, Kirgoz said they and other families like them decided to establish a foundation for autistic children in 2010.

The Autism Foundation, based in Turkey’s capital Ankara, was to provide better education opportunities and raise awareness for children with autism, Kirgoz said, underlining the need for more facilities, such as nursing homes where older people with autism could take shelter after their loved ones pass away.

As the Autism Foundation, they dream of establishing a permanent nursing home to ease the worry of families for their children’s future wellbeing.

Kirgoz said they went to all lengths, including alternative medicine, to find a cure for his son while also stressing that they also never gave up on Yekta’s education and treatment.

He said that through education from an early age supported by sports activities, children with autism could reveal their abilities in certain areas, such as music and painting, depending on the child’s condition. They can also become able to care for themselves and alleviate physical disabilities if they have any.

Citing the progress they have attained through education, Kirgoz said: “Yekta didn’t have good walking balance as a child. There are some problems in his joints and muscles, but I was surprised to see him skating, doing electric skateboarding [now].”

He added that Yekta could now ride a bike with the help of his teachers at the foundation, emphasizing that he alone could not have achieved such progress with his child.

Coronavirus pandemic and children with autism

Underlining the importance of families’ awareness about autism, Kirgoz said their foundation provided online training sessions for families during the coronavirus outbreak.

It is often difficult to explain to children with autism why people need to stay at home during a pandemic, Kirgoz said, adding that complying with curfews is difficult for children with autism as they are prone to making certain habits that they feel compelled to fulfill.

Going to the doctor can be another problem for families, who do their best to prevent infections to avoid making the journey.

Kirgoz also noted that children might also resist wearing face masks at school and often take them off when they feel constricted by them.

Teachers’ mission to help children

Engin Arslan, a teacher and sports coordinator at the Autism Foundation, told Anadolu Agency: “As a teacher, you have to define your character very well. You determine the character of each student. While you have to be very clear to some students, you must be very gentle to others.”

Highlighting that the education of children with autism is a complicated process, Arslan said: “Sometimes, it can take years to bring a child from the first stage to a certain level. For example, you can teach a certain skill to one student in three months, while it may take a year to teach that same skill to others.”

Arslan also pointed to the importance of determining the needs of both the family and the child. “On the one hand, you can bring the child to a certain level, on the other hand, you can concentrate the processes that facilitate the life of the family.”

“For example, a child can often only keep seated for a very short time, so families can’t go to a restaurant or pay a visit to neighbors or relatives. In the first place, we, as teachers, start with the command instruction and sitting processes,” he said.

Arslan added that all activities carried out for students with autism at the foundation make both families’ and children’s daily lives easier.

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