Born in Cairo, Egypt, I grew up between Cairo and Saarland, Germany and graduated in 1999. I completed my postgraduate diploma in 2001 graduating with honors, obtained a Masters degree in Developmental Psychology in 2005, and a Ph.D. in Psychology in 2009.
When I started my practical training, I was working with children with Down Syndrome. One time, we had a party and all of the children were attending. We were helping the children to get seated and waiting for the puppet show to begin. I was sitting behind a “nonverbal” autistic boy. Once they turned on the microphones, the boy started crying and screaming. He put his hands over his ears, and for a second he looked as though he was begging me to do something, but he could not say it.
So I insisted on taking him out of the theater and while we were exiting, he let me put my hands over his hands! The next day, I was sitting in the garden with the children in my class, and the young boy came over and kissed me! Can you believe it? He just kissed me and then he left.
Before that I didn't know a lot about autistic children. A misconception about autism which I held at the time was that children and adults with autism spectrum disorders prefer to be alone and don't care about others. But this is obviously not true. My understanding now is that children and adults with autism often want to interact socially, but lack the ability to spontaneously develop effective social interaction skills.
That little boy changed my life and my future plans. I decided to work with autistic children and their families and find a way to understand them in order to help them.
I believe that autism is a difference more than it is a disease. Even those of us who are “normal” still feel some of the same things that children with autism feel. Who hasn’t been bothered by the feel of scratchy clothes against their skin? Who hasn’t gagged on a partially uncooked slimy egg white or on another unsavory, distasteful food? Who hasn’t been distracted by a loud noise or troubled by the things that lurk in the dark and silence of the night?
The first step towards accepting that difference is understanding it. So I wrote my first book, "You are Not Alone: A Message to Parents of Children with Autism" to send the message to parents all over the world that we are all different, but we are still the same. I decided to write this book for parents who have an autistic child, to be a guide for them, and to inform them that they are not alone. Their child is not the only one. There are millions children all over the world just like their child. Don't worry. You are not alone. Please don't give up. Having a child is a challenge and if he is a child with autism the challenge becomes a kind of noble mission.
I believe that increased knowledge about autism will help us to treat autism. So I wrote my second book about autism, “The Mystery Puzzle—Autism.” This book is for every diagnostic library, for every parent who has a child with autism, for every parent who has a child suspected of having autism, and for anyone who wants to solve the puzzle of autism.
Helping people with autism is my mission. I believe that the only way to treat autism is through you and I, meaning that we need all of society to support this group of people. So I created a fan page on Facebook to provide free online consulting services to help parents and people with autism.
I have also launched a public awareness project called the “Autistic Friendly Community.” Through this project, we are trying to foster the development of an “Autistic Friendly Community” by creating an area in all public places (hotels, restaurants, malls, public transportation, etc.) that will serve autistic individuals and help “normal” people to better understand people with autism, to accept their differences and provide help if needed. A lot of people even in developed countries do not know much about autism. When they encounter a person with autism, they stare at him like he is from another planet. We decided to begin this project here in my country, Egypt, and ultimately hope to expand the project on a global scale.
Remember that A_t_sm only can be treated with U and I.
Deena Moustafa, Ph.D.
The views expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.