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Monthly Archives: April 2011

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Last Day of April

It’s been over two and a half years since I was thrown into the deep end of autism parenting and just over six months since I started AutismUAE, and while it’s impossible to say that you’ve heard it all, one can assume that they’ve heard a fair amount.  But nothing I had ever heard before affected me like what I heard last night, first hand, from a behavioral consultant visiting from abroad.

She went to visit a family to assess their child.  She entered and made small talk, and asked where the young boy was.  They pointed her towards a room.

There she found, in an empty room, a little boy restrained and with his hands bound.

And that was how he lived.

Every day.

I’m not done crying about it yet.

Kids these days…

At the Arabian Center's 'petting' zoo

Iman: Look momma, issa angry bird!

Muslim Matters on Sexual Harassment in Muslim Cultures

Hena Zuberi just published a great, awesome, relevant, necessary, important article about sexual harassment in the Muslim community, and I found myself typing a comment so long it could stand alone.  And I think it should, because the more websites, the more people, the more Muslims talk about sexual harassment, the more people there will be to stand against it, InshaAllah.  Before reading my post, I recommend reading the original post here.

Unfortunately, I know the humiliation of the Pakistani bazaars and tailors too.  I learned to carry a big, empty purse (empty, because the bag would be exposed to pickpockets) and place it over my backside while walking through the crowded streets, and to walk with my elbows out to make more space around my body and to move only in groups. We learned which tailors were safe and which were not, and it didn’t matter if he made your sleeves too big and your pants sideways, at least he was shareef and you could go back and have the clothes fixed without being groped.  My extended family in Karachi has been using the same tailor for so long that he was the family tailor when I was 9, and I’m 30 now.

I have heard stories of getting fed up and screaming one’s head off, but in a tight crowd, you don’t even know who you’re screaming at.   I’ve spoken to cousins who say they want to smash someone’s face in, but they turn around and don’t even know who touched them.  Even here in Dubai there are cases of taxi drivers, men in shopping malls, coworkers, legal sponsors, even waiters and cleaners making deliberate, inappropriate contact with women.  It is punished, *when* it can be proven, but when women are so shocked they don’t react or are too humiliated to draw attention to it, it simply repeats itself as silent abuse.
Owl and I have both had plenty of experience with this, and I used to think it was because we were half-white, and therefore gori-chitti-ai hai recipents of unwanted attention anywhere we went.  It turns out that this happens to any sort of woman in Pakistan- anywhere where molesters can hide in the crowd.  Another one of my cousins told me about a man touching her through a space in the seats while seated behind her on a bus.  Yet another got her chest grabbed by catering staff in typical wedding-buffet traffic, and for years afterwards we held our dinner plates at chest level for the same reason.

I was angry about it as a young woman, but now as a mother, I think I would fly into a face-punching rage if I saw someone inappropriately touching either of my children.  I never reacted this way as a young girl or teenager, but perhaps I needed those years of suffering (I lived in Pk for eight years!) to help me break out of the passive shame.  The first time I ever spoke out was at a wedding here in Dubai, and I was standing near the bride & groom’s seating area when I felt someone press very definitely against me.  It was not a crowded space, and although there were other guests standing around and socializing in the same area, there was no question about there being enough room to pass me without initiating full body-on-body contact.  At first I was stunned.  I turned and looked behind me to see one of catering staff sidling away from behind me without making eye contact or even acknowledging what had just happened.  Then I wondered whether or not I had imagined it, which I think must be a standard reaction when that happens.  You doubt yourself, and sometimes if the groper is subtle you might even make excuses for them.  Your mind would rather do anything than admit what had just happened, and that’s what my mind did.

And then I remembered Pakistan.  And I remembered what it feels like to be bumped in to accidentally by a waiter (Oh, sorry! So Sorry! Excuse me!).  And then I remembered being pushed against, brushed against, pressed against like this in bazaars, on crowded streets, sometimes within shops themselves by men craning  to look at merchandise just over your shoulder, baji.  And unless someone is walking pelvis-first and in slow-motion, there’s no reason why I should feel that part of another person pressing against me.  That’s not how human beings walk, especially here in the UAE, where employees trip over themselves to stay out of a woman’s way for fear of being arrested and deported (and maybe a little beaten, too) by her angry husband.  The police do not deal very graciously with groping here, so if you want to keep your job, you have the sense to watch where you’re walking.

So I told HF, and I adore him for this, his first question was Who?  He didn’t say ‘are you sure?’ or ‘maybe he just bumped in to you?’ or ‘you probably imagined it.’   He took me on my word and even told his brother, who was also a guest at the same wedding.  At the time I was embarrassed that he did so, but later I felt happy and relieved that HF found nothing shameful about what had happened and brought in reinforcements to help protect a woman in the family.

I was able to point the man out.  HF made note of the name on his tag and discreetly found the manager.  About half an hour later the manager came to apologize with the same server.  He said he had tripped, and while the man looked blank and unapologetic as the manager issued an apology on his behalf, at least he had been caught out.  About an hour after we left the wedding a higher level manager called to apologize, saying the man had stumbled somehow, but was profusely sorry.  Nothing much happened, and nothing much came of it (as far as I know anyway) but hey- I did it!  I told someone!  And no one yelled at me, or called me a liar, or told me I was making things up.  And most importantly, no one said it was my fault.

Alhamdulillah for good men, and Auzubillah for the bad ones.  I guess every man needs to decide which one he’s going to be.  And every woman needs to decide whether or not she’s going to suffer in silence or take a stand.  Angrily turning around and yelling ‘who touched me?’ may not yield any immediate confessions, but at least a groper will think twice about whether he wants to be caught.  The sooner we stop blaming and shaming ourselves, the sooner we can speak up and InshaAllah, give sight to the blind eye that is otherwise turned to casual sexual harassment.

Video from the Harassment in Egypt Blog

P is for poke, apparently.

(I am sitting at the dining table working on my computer, and suddenly I get a jabbing feeling in my left side.)

Me: Iman! What are you doing?

(Iman grins and holds up her pink pencil)

Iman: I poking you!

Me: Yes, I can see that.  If you want to get my attention, say excuse me Momma!

Iman: Excuse me momma?

Me: Yes Iman?

Iman: Can I poke you?


Knee-high Theology

So I’m home again in Dubai, 32 weeks pregnant and horribly sick- I’ve spent the last four days more asleep than awake, if you can count passing out punctuated by coughing myself silly as sleeping.  Today I get to see an ENT finally, Alhamdulillah.  We’re getting ready to pack the kids into the car and make a family trip to the hospital.  In the background, onions are frying.  Tonight, HF is making biryani. 🙂

A few days ago we sat down and watched an adorable anime called Summer Wars, which has a nice, non-violent, non-romantic story line that the kids enjoyed.  There was only one problem though- Obacha dies.  The old grandmother, who is the matriarch of the extended family, passes away in her sleep and animourning ensues.  And of course, Iman fixates on this, and a full two days after having watched the cartoon, she pipes up at dinner:

“Momma, what happened to the gwamma?”


(HF looks at me expectantly)

“The grandma died and InshaAllah she went to Jannah.  Do you remember the story about Jannah?  Jannah is the most beautiful place ever, with castles and lovely clothes and yummy food!”


“With Allah!  Allah is up!”

“Up onna house?”

“No, higher than that.  Up past the sky.”

“Up inna stars?”

“Even higher than the stars.”

Khalid swallows his rice and says, “Moon.”

“Very good Khalid!  But Allah is past the moon too.  He’s higher than that.  And that’s where Jannah is.”


-HF and I are collectively flabbergasted-

“Yes, the angels are in Jannah…”

“Angel fell down.”


“Shaitan wasn’t an angel, but he fell down to earth. You’re right.”

“Angels onna earth.  Angel is there.  Jumping.”

We turn and look towards the front door, where Khalid is gesturing.

“If you say so sweetie.”

The End. 🙂

How’s this for an update?

I’m sitting here waiting for the next interview to begin and thought I’d actually post something.  Alhamdulillah, the trip is going well.  Yesterday we held a 2 1/2 hour orientation for therapists and some seniors from a local center.  After that we interviewed four of them, hopped into a taxi, and then went to the other side of town to meet with the Executive Director of the Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP).  He was such a lovely person to talk to,he was very helpful and gave us the inside-out of how ASP works, what the structure is, how they’re funded (or not!) what their projects are, etc.

Joy renewed her membership, and I signed AutismUAE up as a member as well and we’re very happy to support them in any way we can.  The ASP reminds me of us, really.  The Executive Director- Ranil- sits in a one-room office with a total staff of four- there are fifty national chapters, but he’s still the one driving around, making phone calls, running errands- the fancy titles don’t mean much and everyone does whatever is required regardless of the job description.

It felt a bit strange introducing myself to a board room (eep!) full of therapists yesterday as the Director (eep!) and I felt like I had to specify that I was also the driver, the clerk, the web designer, and the office boy- but after having met Ranil, I feel less self-conscious.  I feel less like I’m ‘pretending’ to be a director and more like making coffee and copies is actually part of the directorial job description.

Yes, I’m sure there are people in managerial positions out there who pay other people to wipe their noses for them, but I don’t see that as anything I aspire to.  And I feel better now that it doesn’t seem like that would be expected of me, either.  *phew*

The interviews that I mentioned in the first paragraph actually happened some time between the second and third paragraph, and now that they’re over, I can talk about them.  We have two potential therapists who both have their Bachelors degrees in Child Psychology, are in their final year of Masters in Special Education, and have four years of ABA experience with two very reputable centers.  We’re not hiring them yet though, we’re giving them three months to develop… the powers of speech. :p  They’re too shy, too quiet, too polite, not loud enough, not verbal enough, and not confident enough to swim with the sharks in Dubai, the sharks being the demanding, inquiring, and highly verbal parents that they’ll be working with.

Unlike center-based therapy, where contact between therapist and parent is very limited, home-based therapy involves complete immersion of the therapist into the child’s home environment.  There is no middle-man to mediate, and since therapists and parents together form the team that is responsible for the materials, the learning environment, and the consistency of the behavior modification plan from each family member, the therapist needs to go in wearing their own pair of bossy boots.

Yes.  Bossy boots.  Big, steel-toed, bossy boots.  You grow them after developing the confidence that you know what you’re talking about and it’s more important that the child be taught correctly than to be mis-taught because you’re afraid of offending a ‘senior’ therapist or parent.

These two therapists were not wearing bossy boots.  They were wearing what we call the too-nice loafers of Pinoy Politeness, where the cultural norm is that it’s more important to be polite than honest, and rather than say ‘no’ to anything (because it could potentially offend someone) it’s better to say yes and then disappear.  I’ve been in this situation twice or thrice already, and twice (TWO TIMES!) this has involved people accepting jobs and then being nowhere to be found when it comes time to sign the contract.  They don’t answer email, they don’t answer phones- they just disappear.  And weeks later we find out from other therapists that, in one case, the therapist’s significant other didn’t want her working abroad, and in the other case, the therapist changed her own mind about working abroad but at no point whatsoever decided to inform me.

We’ve even had one candidate cut and run- literally- from the car of a family we set up an interview with, and disappear.  After making a few phone calls, we discovered that her aunt had worked for the same family before, and reported that the mother could be verbally abusive.  Why she couldn’t have told us this before we set up the interview, before she got on the bus, before she traveled for two hours and then gotten into the mother’s car only to jump out again a few minutes later- I don’t know.

I digress.  Alhamdulillah, we have finalized and approved of our next three therapists, all of whom are wearing BIG OLE BOSSY BOOTS because they’re all senior-level therapists with years of experience managing other therapists in addition to their children, and they have the presence to prove it.  Among them, even the quietest senior- who has been an ABA therapist for seven years- makes up in content what she lacks in volume.  She reminds me of a neighbor that Erma Bombeck once wrote about in one of her many gems as a humor columnist.  Erma described herself as a mother who screamed and yelled her kids into obedience (or some semblance thereof) and bitterly resented the demure Southern Belle who lived next door and never raised her voice above a whisper.  Imagine her surprise one day when her kids came back home and reported that they had been gently told, in the most feminine whisper, that if they played ball on that lawn again they’d have their gizzards ripped out.  0_0

So yes, volume.  You don’t always need it.  🙂

Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, by the time we’re done processing papers (which could take two months) our team will be comprised of:

  • Joy: My lead therapist and Khalid’s ABA therapist who commands such authority that if she weren’t handling kids she’d be bossing around a naval fleet somewhere.  She’s been with us for a year and a half now.
  • Jel: A superstar Physical Therapist turned ABA therapist who earns rave reviews from the parents as well as the visiting case managers and psychologists. She’s been with us since the beginning of this year.
  • Grace: An English teacher turned ABA therapist who is four and a half feet tall but manages older, more severe children two feet taller and double her weight.  She’s been with us for two weeks and is already garnering good feedback from parents.
  • Cheng: She’s the senior therapist with seven years of experience, a degree in Child Psychology and the authoritative whisper. We hope to have her in Dubai within the next two weeks, max.
  • Adrian: A broad, tall Physical Therapist and senior ABA therapist who handles the 16 year olds and physically demanding children.  He is scheduled to be down by mid-May of this year at the latest, InshaAllah.  He will be joined by:
  • Sherry: His wife, who is also a senior therapist, possibly even smaller than Grace but with no less command in her personality.
  • Jan-Jan: A senior therapist, Physical Therapy graduate with a Masters degree in Special Education who has also been giving speech therapy to deaf children for the last three years.
  • GNet: Another triple-header- A Physical Therapist, Special Ed Masters, and senior ABA therapist- GNet also taught high school for four years, so she’s got the kind of bossy-boots that you come to expect from someone who has taught teenagers.

After that, we have our two too-nice Pinoy Polite aba therapists with Child Psych degrees.  They’ve been given three months to take up public speaking, debate, or just arguing with people around them :p and then they’ll come back for a reevaluation.  Not for their ABA skills, but for their confidence and ability to communicate effectively.

And now that we’ve wrapped up three intense days of work, Joy and I are heading to Qiapo- the Muslim part of town to visit the only Mosque in Manila and maybe find a halal lunch, InshaAllah.


Live from Manila…

Wow, the Philippines looks a lot like Karachi- but with more shorts and flipflops and no donkeys. 🙂  And no one even stares.  Which I am amazed and impressed by.  Am here for one and a half more days of interviews and meetings, but I’ll try to update tomorrow if I can. 🙂

A Jeepny- a bit like a stretch-limo rickshaw, lol

I did a double-take when I first saw this- Yes, 7-11 is here, and apparently, they're here on every single block!

Y’all are invited!

You're invited! April 9th, Zaabeel Park, 12pm Gate 1. BBQ & Fun for Autism Awareness!

April is Autism Awareness Month!

Because it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t slather my blog in as much autism as my daily life is slathered in, this month, I intend to post as much as possible about autism.  Whether you want me to or not. :p  So here I go. 🙂

First of all, there’s this picture gallery of individuals with autism from around the world. Many thanks to  Hemlock who mailed me the link today.  I like to think that I’m seasoned enough to keep it together when talking/looking/dealing/interacting with autism, since not only do I do that at home with my own son, but also with the children and families that our therapists take care of, but I cried anyway.  Maybe it’s because I’m pregnant and slightly more emotional than usual, or maybe it’s because I feel for each of the families in the pictures.  I’m not sure, it’s a combination of both, most likely.  But I know I’m not the only one who gets hit by this unexpectedly sometimes.  A certain nice man who just happens to live with me (though I won’t say who) was once reduced to silent, manly tears by this Arabic nasheed about autism.   Me?  I bawled.  And I don’t even think I was pregnant when I saw the video so that kind of shoots down the hormones excuse.

Second of all, Khalid turned five this March, Alhamdulillah. 🙂  And Iman turned three.  Alhamdulillah.  My amazingly beautiful, vicious, unexpected little savages- who are studying Arabic in anticipation for their entrance exam to a bilingual KG program- are busy running, jumping, arguing, and whacking each other out of babyhood and into young childhood.  We’re praying that InshaAllah, come KG-2 in September, Khalid won’t need a shadow in school.  At the moment, Joy goes to school with him every day to help him, basically, learn how to learn.  He will always need some extra support, but if he can function independently in a school setting, then that’s a huge step towards independence in the real world.  Please make dua that Khalid can take that step, because the sooner he can pass for ‘normal,’ the sooner teachers stop handling him with kid gloves- an educational tactic which is the frustrating equivalent of ‘give the kid what he wants, don’t make the retard cry.’

I know they mean well, but when Khalid is asked to do something by the teacher that he doesn’t want to do and Joy is working hard to teach Khalid to listen for the teacher’s instructions and follow through, it’s utterly useless for the teacher to backtrack as soon as she sees expectations being placed on Khalid and say “Oh no, it’s ok! He can lay in the middle of the floor while everyone else sits nicely on the mat!” or “Look class, Khalid is helping us choose a song!” as Khalid is gleefully pushing buttons on the CD player in the middle of the lesson.

The teacher is, in essence, undermining her own authority as well as Joy’s, and un-teaching the compliance skills that we’ve spent over two years building.  Khalid’s motto is, and has been since birth, “You And What Army?”  When other kids in the center got over their initial resistance to therapy within the first few sessions, Khalid insisted on crying himself silly for over three weeks.  I would peek through the window in the therapy room to see him blowing bubbles- and sobbing.  Putting coins in the piggy bank- and sobbing.  Cutting toy fruit with a novelty-sized plastic kitchen knife- and yes, sobbing.  He is still remarkably stubborn, strong-willed, and very determined in very nearly everything he does.  He does not suggest, he insists.  His train does not say choo-choo, it says beep beep, and if you suggest otherwise, he will get angry.  RTA is not an acronym for Roads and Transport Authority, it is a word in itself and it is pronounced ‘ri-taa’ every time an RTA taxi, bus, or metro train pass by.

I digress.  Compliance has been one of our toughest battles, and I get really, really annoyed when I pick Joy and Khalid up from school and Joy is sighing from exasperation because the teacher let Khalid lay at her feet as she stroked his hair while the other children sat nicely on the circle and listened to the story.  (Teacher’s pet, literally?)  Joy has taken to simply removing Khalid from these situations by walking him out of the classroom, much to the teacher’s confusion, as Joy basically has to step in and interrupt the lesson in order to reinforce such simple requests as ‘we sit in a circle during circle time’ which the teacher neglects because she ‘doesn’t want to make Khalid upset.’

SubhanAllah.  Right.  I think I’m supposed to be talking about autism.  I am, really, but in a way specific to how people perceive a child with autism.  I realize that people are trying to be sensitive, but my maternal hackles are raised (and teeth bared, too) every time people treat Khalid as something pitiable.  Yes, fifty years ago they would have written him off as ‘retarded,’ because they didn’t realize what they are only slowly realizing now- that there is intelligence locked inside of body that fails the mind.  Many non-verbal individuals still have 100% comprehension of what is being said around them, or have remarkable analytical, spatial, mathematical, or artistic abilities that go un-noticed for decades because they cannot be accessed, but not because they don’t exist.

So there.