The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: The Prince Within the Beast

opinion

I have just finished reading an amazing book about a young man's battle with Autism and his family's journey. It was so poignant. The boy was born a healthy and vibrant child and remained so until the age of three when he began to change, preferring to stay alone and recoiling from touch.

He was diagnosed a few months later and struggled until he turned 18 when music began to draw him out of his shell: music and the love of a long lost friend.

It was a beautifully written piece that brought tears to my eyes and made me realise how often we miss the beautiful essence of a person because on the outside they don't look or act as we would have them do. When growing up one of our family friends had a child who was physically challenged. He had Downs Syndrome. He was one of the most loving people I have ever met. He radiated joy and innocence and all things that make the world a happier place. It was like though physically he was aging, he never lost the wonder of seeing life through the innocent eyes of a child. I loved hanging out at his home; he made life look so uncomplicated.

At the time one of the television stations also ran a sitcom "Life Goes On", a story about a family whose son, Korky, had Downs Syndrome and this helped demystify the condition for most of us. Korky grew up to be independent and a contributing member of society, an ending most of us had never thought possible before. He remained with Downs but he learnt how to live with his condition and be as independent as possible.

In the programme, the message was obvious: Korky was not a cripple, he was a person with a disability. The difference is amazing; one definition makes the issue the defining factor, the other makes the person the focus and their condition just another facet of his or her life not the defining factor. Please don't get me wrong, I don't mean to trivialise the challenges of living with a disability or raising a child with a disability.

The journey must be arduous for most and emotional. However, the book helped me realise that it is not what is on the outside of a person that makes them beautiful - it is the essence within them. It made me realise that many of us are trapped within unable to truly embrace all the good things God has so graciously given to us, some of us.

Like this young man some people are trapped by autism, others by their various experiences along life's journey. It reminded me of the famous story Beauty and the Beast. The beast was merely a prince trapped in the wrong body and Beauty was able to see through the scary outside to glimpse the real person inside the beast, long before the physical transformation of the beast to a prince took place.

As a parent, my heart's cry remains that as I look, not only at my own children, but at all children, my eyes will be open to see the possibilities in each and through love and nurture help draw out the prince within the beast. All children, indeed all people, deserve that much.

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