Today’s support group involved what will probably be the best activity of the whole programme: a challenge of ‘trying to fail’. We had the parents and siblings together for their support groups this week but then split them into two teams so that parents were not with their own child/children.
The tasks for our teams were to go out into the local community and: ask 10 people what they knew about autism, ask someone for something that could be used in our programme (no money could be exchanged), and get a selfie with a stranger without speaking. We instructed the teams to collect as many “no’s” as possible. The winning team would be the team that failed the most.
With much apprehension, our families headed out to start their challenge. We had some great selfies, including one with an old local man who for some reason kept thanking the team for taking a photo with him. The activity generated a wealth of useful things that we could use in the programme, including pens, a balloon, a comb and some flowers (these were immediately shredded by the baby of one of our parents).
Dozens of people were asked by our families what they knew about autism and, despite being fairly used to hearing ludicrous misconceptions of autism, we were still amazed at the responses some people gave. One person confidently told our families that there is a higher rate of autism in Saudi Arabia because the people there are oppressed, and this causes them to have autism. Other people said that autism was caused by a specific television programme, Toyour Al-Janna, and that autism was related to children sitting alone all of the time.
The families had a lot of fun with this activity and it was great to see them working as a team, involving their children and enjoying doing something outside of their comfort zone. They commented that they had never tried anything like this before and that it was very unusual for Syrian women to go out and ask questions to strangers.
The teams found that people said yes to their requests much more than they had expected them to-that the goal of ‘trying to fail’ was actually very difficult. This was of course the message of the activity; by expecting people to say no to your requests you often do not take the risk of asking in the first place. However, people generally want to help others; they want to say yes. In a culture in which few people would even tell others that their child has autism, we hope that we have empowered our families to take a risk, be prepared for people to say no, and ask for the help and support that they need. Even one person saying yes could make a huge difference to the lives of our parents, siblings and children with autism.