Child birth is a gift from heaven but when the child is born with autism, that gift for many families in Africa, becomes a burden if not a curse from hell.
And when the parents of these children with autism are themselves challenged in the understanding of what the situation is, they blame God, curse satan for giving them an autistic child.
There is nothing more painful than being kicked when you are down in life yet for children with autism, they are mocked, abandoned, kicked and deserted in their lowest estate by their neighbors, friends, teachers and even their parents who are supposed to know better.
Their lives become a life without dreams, a life of drought that prays for rain that never comes.
Yet in this same Africa, Ghana is a story of a 14-year-old girl who despite her challenge with autism is breaking the barriers and shackles of impossibilities, chasing her dreams with every fibre of her being.
Nana Yaa Ohenewa Kuffuor is what African beauty stands for- a beautiful broad-cheeked face, with arches of a perfect eye brows linked from opposite directions to a pointed nose that sits seamlessly just above a heart-shaped lip.
Her gentle smile is infectious. She is that beautiful with autism and daring to change the narrative about people with autism. She dreams of becoming a top model in the world and has begun the journey to achieving her dream with her first photo-shoot facilitated by Afi Antonio.
In her photo-shoot is a finished product of what any manager would love to have in a top model, but the story behind that finished product is a tiring journey of pain, a tireless effort to gain, a commitment of an entire family who, with religious devotion, are rewriting the cultural history of autism in Ghana.
Her mom, Mary Amoah says they found out at age five that beautiful Nana Yaa was suffering from autism. She wasn’t their only child but she was special.
What every growing child did, young Nana Yaa could not, the giggles that every child gave, young Nana Yaa did not. But she was special in her own right.
Autism Spectrum Disorder, which is popularly referred to as Autism, is a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.
Mary Amoah said the knowledge of their child’s difficulty presented the family a new challenge and a poised determination to do their best for her and to provide her with every single opportunity
Whatever effort, time, money, they put in raising their earlier children, they invested twice as much in raising Nana Yaa to be what she is today- young autistic teenager modeling her way to greatness.
They gave her a home she could be proud of, a home tuition with a classroom none of the other children got, a wide range of therapies including sensory integration, son-rise programme, gfcfsf diet, play therapy etc.
Mary Amoah who was only a teacher decided to take a course in how to take care of children with special needs.
She took care of Nana Yaa during the day and her husband had evening sessions, with the children, Nana Yaa’s siblings, taking turns to provide training, support and love for an autistic child destined to put her family on the globe.
It was fun and pain mixed together caring for Nana Yaa but neither her Mom nor her family is broken by the experience.
Mary Amoah documented every single sign, look, action, inaction, pain, gain, tears, smile of Nana Yaa under every circumstance just so she would know what her lovely baby girl likes or dislikes.
It was such a journey, and they walked it with poise, uncertain about what the future held. It was only when Aunty Mary shared her daughter’s photograph with an online parent support group for autism that the thought of her daughter’s potential career of becoming a model was tossed into her mind and since then there is no turning back for Nana Yaa.
She smiles in front of the camera with a sizzling Tyra Banks pose that puts a smile on the faces of anyone who cares to look.
Trained by a facilitator with Awaawaa2, an NGO that supports children with speech and language difficulties, Nana Yaa has begun a new journey of hope, a career in modeling all aimed at telling a new story of an autistic child in Africa.
She received therapy support from Awaawaa2.
Mary Amoah says "there are no magic pills to healing autism. Every child is so different and when given the right support they can rise above every challenge as Nana Yaa is doing. It will take an informed parent to provide love, dedication, love and consistency to make that dream happen."
"Autism is not a disability, ignorance is," she added.
She called on government to support already existing centres that care for children with autism, adding, early intervention is key in making progress in caring for children with autism.
Watch some of the pictures taken in her photo shoot with Afi Antonio, a young and upcoming Ghanaian model.
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