Disabilities and autism
Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari, SunniPath Academy Teacher
Please forgive me for asking you the same question, I am quite desperate for an answer and this is why I am asking you once again. Please will you kindly find time to answer my question - jazak Allah khairun;
I would very much like to know the opinion of the shaykhs about what the Quran and the Sunnah say about disabled or special-needs children. My knowledge about Islam is average and I have learnt a great deal from your site, as this is a personal area for me and as my family (particularly my mother) is very upset that both my children are autistic. Although I have explained that they are indeed a test from Allah I need more than this to console her, I have also said that this is probably Allah's way of telling us that their condition could have been worse but Alhamdolillah it isn't and we have to abide by Allah's decisions. Please will you kindly explain to me why Allah has chosen every one to be different (in my mind I know why) but I need the words of someone who is greater in knowledge.
In the Name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful
I pray this message finds you and your family in good health and strong iman.
As the mother of an autistic child, I can truly understand what you're going through. Unfortunately, the Muslim community is largely unaware of the existence of special-needs children. It is imperative that the families of children who are on the autism spectrum educate the community about autism and related developmental disabilities.
First off the bat, it is so important that you see your child, not a disability. Do not get caught up in labels. A child who is autistic may display a wide range of behaviors that fall on a spectrum. Autism is not static. It describes certain challenges that a child may face at a certain point in his or her life. Every child is at a different place on this spectrum. Some children are higher-functioning than others; however, each child has certain abilities and strengths which can be developed, no matter where he or she is on the spectrum (Chantal Sicile-Kira, Autism Spectrum Disorders).
Second, NEVER be ashamed of your children or their diagnosis. They're still your babies and they're still God's gift to you and your family. A friend of my mother calls my son, "My Jannah baby." What she means is that special-needs children are a way for parents to go to Jannah. Children with disabilities are very close to Allah Ta'ala as many of them never have the capacity to do any wrong. Some children with disabilities will always remain in a very innocent state, and, therefore, will not be held accountable, unlike typically-developing children. If we, as parents, raise our children with love and patience, thanking Allah for this opportunity, not being resentful, and giving our children the best we can give them in terms of treatment and care, then they are a means to Paradise. Who are we to grumble and complain, "Why me?"
"Why not me," should be the question. Every person on the face of this earth is tested in a certain way. If this is the test Allah has chosen for us as parents in the autistic community, then so be it.
Third, you raise a really good point. Allah Ta'ala could have chosen to test our babies with leukemia and other childhood cancers, He could have chosen for them to have cerebral palsy, He could have chosen for them to die in the womb or in infancy. He could have chosen a physical disability rather than a neurological or cognitive disability. There are so many children whose diagnoses are far more severe. So rather than looking at children who are typically developing, we should look at those who have been challenged far more severely than our own children. This makes us grateful and makes us more compassionate.
Fourth, it is not right for your mother to be upset about your children. As parents, we don't make our children autistic. So the blame game should not even be played. We don't blame God, we don't blame Mom, we don't blame Dad. We accept our children for who they are. Why waste time being angry and resentful when there's so much work to do?
I completely understand that as parents of children with disabilities we go through a grieving process. This is only natural. All of us have certain expectations for our children. And when we don't see those expectations being met, we mourn. So when we get the official diagnosis, we should allow some time for grieving. But it should be a healthy grieving that lets us accept our children, embrace them for who they are, adjust some of our expectations if necessary, and then channel all of our energy into finding the best treatments out there.
I met the nicest non-Muslim couple who have a 30-year old son who is autistic. My husband and I were desperately seeking advice. So the first question we asked them was, "Is there a process of grieving?" They said, "Yes, but, ultimately, there's no time for grief. You take that energy and move. You take action."
This leads me to my fifth point. As Westerners, we have a lot to be grateful for because there are so many different treatments and therapies available for special-needs children. These options simply don't exist in other parts of the world. The family I talked to had to search high and low to get their son his diagnosis over 20 years ago, and this was right here in the U.S. But in the last two decades, enormous advances have been made in the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.
Sixth, I return to the issue of education. We must educate the Muslim community about the autism epidemic. Currently, 1 in 150 American children has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Boys, in particular, are the hardest hit, with 1 in 94 boys being affected by this disability. 67 children are diagnosed every day. (See autismspeaks.org). Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that impacts speech, communication, and social skills. However, autism is not the same as mental retardation. It is not a punishment from Allah. It is not the fault of the mother. It is a complex spectrum of disorders that involves the neurological, cognitive, and vestibular systems, and is thought to have environmental, biological, and genetic bases. We need to do all we can to raise autism awareness through participating in fund-raising, autism walks, charitable activities, and general autism education.
As a Muslim mother, I feel very lonely sometimes. However, I know that I have the resources of the larger non-Muslim community and I know that I have the responsibility to educate my fellow Muslims about autism. Sometimes, people can be incredibly insensitive towards special-needs children. This goes for both Muslims and non-Muslims. However, this should only increase our resolve to spread awareness.
Seventh, special-needs children are unique. As with typically-developing children, every special-needs child has his or her own personality, temperament, strengths, and abilities. Every child has his or her God-given potential. This is from the mercy of Allah and one of the signs of His strength that He created such diversity among human beings. We should rejoice in the creative power of Allah and accept His qadr, or decree, for us. I believe that Allah created disabilities so those of us who are able-bodied would not become complacent and ungrateful. Taking care of a child with a disability brings out the best and most compassionate in all of us. So many of the things that parents of typically-developing children take for granted, we have to fight and struggle for. I think this helps us draw closer to the All-Merciful, the Forbearant, and the Loving.
And as to your question about what the Shuyukh say, all I can share with you is what I have learned from them. The Shuyukh I met were all compassionate, recognizing that each child is created differently. They all advised me to read lots of Qur'an to my son, and for my son. I was given Qur'an for my son to wear, since in the words of Allah, there is healing. Recite the Surahs of protection frequently over your children. Strive to keep a halal household, with halal food and income. Make sure your children always see you praying. Surround them with Qur'an, dhikr, salawat, and nasheeds.
Shaykh Nuh Keller advised me to be aware of the environmental roots of autism, such as pollutants, chemicals, heavy metals, and immunizations. He talked about giving my son the best tarbiya (rearing and training) possible since this is my child's right, disability or no disability.
And, above all, there is love. Love your children. Don't let them see you or anyone else get angry or resentful because this will hurt them and they will blame themselves. Even if they can't articulate it, they know when people are upset. And it affects them. Deeply. Laugh with them, smile, kiss them, hug them and let them know how loved they are. And they will respond. Don't buy into that myth that autistic children cannot show affection. That is a lie. They love you more than you'll ever know.
If you'll permit, please allow me to suggest some resources all parents should explore:
1. Autism Society of America, www.autism-society.org
2. Autism Speaks, www.autismspeaks.org
3. Autism Research Institute, www.autism.com
4. Defeat Autism Now!, http://autismwebsite.com/ARI/dan/dan.htm
5. The Floortime Foundation: Reaching Beyond Autism, www.floortime.org
6. The Handle Institute, www.handle.org
1. Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D. and Serena Wieder, PH.D., Engaging Autism: Using the Floortime Approach to Help Children Relate, Communicate, and Think (Da Capo Press, 2006).
2. Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D. and Serena Wieder, PH.D., The Child with Special Needs: Encouraging Intellectual and Emotional Growth (Da Capo Press, 1998).
3. Judith Bluestone, The Fabric of Autism: Weaving the Threads into a Cogent Theory (Sapphire Enterprises, 2005).
4. Chantal Sicile-Kira, Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Complete Guide to Understanding Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Other ASDs (Perigee Trade, 2004).
5. Patricia Stacey, The Boy Who Loved Windows: Opening the Heart and Mind of a Child Threatened with Autism (Da Capo Press, 2004).
6. Temple Grandin, PH.D., Thinking in Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life with Autism (Vintage, 2006).
The above author, Stanley Greenspan, is totally brilliant and you should look into getting his DVDs through the Floortime website.
I pray this information is helpful as your embark on this journey with your children.
May Allah Ta'ala bless all of our children with what is most pleasing to Him and most conducive to our children's spiritual, intellectual, neurological, and cognitive growth,
Zaynab, also known as Umm Salahuddin
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