Why autism remains hidden in Africa

The 8-year-old girl’s head drooped like a wilted flower as she sat slumped in a wooden chair in her neighbor’s kitchen. Her wrists were swollen from the dingy white shoelace that bound them behind her back. The girl’s mother, Aberu Demas, wept as she untied her child.

Earlier that day, Demas had arrived unannounced at the Joy Center for Autism in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A single mother living on the outskirts of town, Demas didn’t know what autism was or if her daughter, Fekerte, had it, but she was desperate for help. Fekerte could not speak or feed herself, and Demas had no family or friends to look after the girl when she needed to work or run errands. Afraid that Fekerte would wander off and drown in the river behind the houses, Demas felt she had no choice but to tie her up.

It had taken Demas about an hour to get to the center by bus. And because she didn’t have an appointment, she had to wait about three hours until Zemi Yenus, the center’s founder, could see her. The center was at maximum capacity, so when they finally met, Yenus told Demas she could only put Fekerte on the waiting list. Demas began to cry, and confessed that she had left her daughter tied up and alone.

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13th December 2017