I founded @Autism Diaries in March 2021 and released my first video on 2nd April to celebrate world autism day.
It has reached more people than I thought possible. It led me to a passionate content producer who has this year helped me launch the Ana Huna Podcast to help raise autism awareness in the Middle East. My name is Mai Ghazy El Dahan and this is my story as a regular mum!
I grew up in Alexandria, Egypt. I became the head of programming for the Arabic FM station Al Arabiya 99 FM in UAE in 2004. I had a very successful career in media. I got married in 2007 and had my son in 2008. At this time, I decided to become a stay-at-home mum until Saif went to school.
Shortly after he went to nursery at the age of 2.3 years, his teachers told me that they felt his speech was delayed and that he had some signs of Autism.
Until this point, I had not suspected that anything was wrong with my son, but what his nursery teacher told me made me go on a 5-month journey seeking the help of doctors, psychologists, paediatricians, and speech therapies.
At first, they told me he was too young for a diagnosis and that I had to wait till he was 3 for a proper assessment. Still luckily, I found a paediatrician with a degree in psychology who was able to assess and diagnose him.
When I finally got the diagnosis that my child was on the Autism Disorder Spectrum as a high-functioning child, my husband and I were crushed. There were many difficult nights of confusion and trying to find out about the condition and how it might have happened. We quickly realised that we must get back on our two feet and try to help our son.
We were told that we needed to start with ABA therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. My son started with 22 hours of therapy a week at the age of 2.8 yrs. It was exhausting physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. Four years later, he was also diagnosed with moderate ADHD.
Since we got the diagnosis till now, we have had to make many decisions for him as parents. Decide which therapy was working and what was not, whether to reduce therapy hours and allow him to become a child who played more often instead of just attending too many hours of therapy. What sports would work for him? What experiences we could offer him so that he could learn more about himself? How to make friends and so much more!
I was told by his doctors and therapists that his IQ was high enough, he was high functioning, able to learn and therefore to enrol him into a mainstream school with the proper learning and support.
I was advised against sending him to a special needs school because he can handle what other kids can.
It was a tough journey that included tears, frustration, a long search among 13 schools to find the right fit for him, much money spent, but it also had a lot of fruitful conversations with other parents and teachers, who had experiences with children with Autism and ADHD.
As time passed and the years went by, he has continued to surprise me!!! He has achieved things I never thought he would be able to and he has shown determination in wanting to thrive that I have not experienced in my life before him.
I have learned so much from this little boy (now a 15-year-old). His confidence, his being comfortable in his own skin and not at all shy of who he is. I believe we can all be a bit more like that!
I also realised along the way that there is nothing better than talking to another parent who has a child with the same experiences. It made me feel that I am not alone and that many parents are going through the same thing. I can also learn from them, their strength, and their experiences.
We still have a long way to go until Autistic children and children with ADHD are fully included in our communities and everyday life.
I became a Parent Inclusion Champion at my son’s school and created a support group for parents of children with Autism and ADHD.
I firmly believed that our voice as parents need to be more heard, and that’s why I thought of raising support and awareness in the Middle East about the struggles of having children with Autism and ADHD, and that is how the idea of Autism Diaries was born!!!!
It’s a video VLOG where I share my experiences, struggles, success tips, and challenges from a parent’s point of view. The aim is that the videos don’t only reach parents of children with Autism and ADHD but also the entire community so that neurotypical parents and children find the value in having a friend who is different.
True inclusion of Autistic children and adults will never happen unless typical parents and children also learn that their children will benefit when they help and befriend a child with autism and ADHD.
One out of 54 children born in the USA are diagnosed with some form of Autism which means the numbers are on the rise. One day in the future, your son or your daughter might be working with an adult with Autism or ADHD, and that’s why we have to spread awareness on how to understand them and accept them and include them in our lives in such a way that makes their abilities shine.
My son has an eye for detail, is very good at maths, and is talented in music, art, and design. He is a capable athlete, who enjoys running, athletics, swimming and cycling.
People with Autism have different abilities; we just need to show them the way so that they can shine!!!!!
My dream is for my videos and podcast to reach as many people as possible so that one day my son is fully included in his community. @autismdiaries