I recently had the pleasure of talking to an inspiring mother, Monaal Barakat, about her journey having two children on the Autism Spectrum. She opened up to me about the challenges she faced, the stigma within the Muslim community, and how she overcomes this to be the greatest advocate for her children and a source of unwavering love and support.
MM: Please tell me about your journey with having children on the autism spectrum.
Monaal: I have two beautiful children age 9 and 6 with Autism Spectrum Disorder, each with very different needs. As a special needs family, our journey has consisted of hard work, dedication, research, advocacy, and lots of patience. Over the years, it’s been a battle of fighting for services for treatment and advocacy for school and community inclusion. I realized quickly that our job as parents is to fight for our children and help them reach their fullest potential — whatever that may be. There’s always this sense of fear and worry that comes with raising special needs children. The worry of receiving a diagnosis and the fear of what the future may hold for them. During challenging days, I remind myself that Allah (SWT) has placed on us a duty to care for these special people of Jannah. I pray that on the Day of Judgment that my children will testify on our behalf that we cared for and nurtured them to the best of our ability.
MM: What challenges have you faced as their mom?
Monaal: Unfortunately, there’s a stigma when it comes to disabilities in our society and culture. Cognitive disabilities are even harder to accept since it’s an “unseen” disability. Many challenges lie in breaking stereotypes associated with disabilities in our community to allow for open doors and opportunities of inclusion. In addition, the lack of accommodation leads to challenges in attending community and family gatherings.
MM: What community support have you found?
Monaal: There are national organizations that have helped with emotional and physical support. MUHSEN (Muslims Understanding & Helping Special Education Needs) is a national organization that not only raises awareness to break through cultural stigma associated with a disability, but also provides accommodation and acceptance in our Muslim community. Autism Speaks is another national organization that offers resources and information for common issues that arise with having Autism Spectrum Disorder.
I’ve also found support locally by reaching out to other special needs parents in my community. I was able to connect with other special needs families through my children’s school, online local support groups, and family. It’s amazing what support I’ve found and was able to give just by starting the conversation about special needs in our community.
There’s always this sense of fear and worry that comes with raising special needs children.
MM: What advice do you have for other mothers who have children on the autism spectrum?
Monaal: Trust your gut. Do what’s best for your child and be sure not to place unrealistic expectations for your child. You are not alone. Many families with autism have similar struggles, reach out and ask for support.
MM: Where can people find more information?
Monaal: MUSHEN is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the community to establish more inclusive environments for those with all types of disabilities. They advocate, educate, train, and implement programs and services nationwide to improve access to mosques for special needs individuals.
Autism Speaks is dedicated to promoting solutions for needs of individuals with autism and their families through advocacy and support, increasing understanding and acceptance of autism spectrum disorder, and advancing research into causes and better interventions for autism spectrum disorder.
Easter Seals provides exceptional services, education, outreach, and advocacy so that people living with autism and other disabilities can live, learn, work, and play in our communities.