Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Autistic Gisselle gets enough love for six children

Published:Saturday | May 2, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Sister Kaydian Harty (left) and mom Sheron Francis (right) trying to get Gisselle to smile for the camera.

PARRY TOWN, St Ann:

She was diagnosed some 17 years ago when Jamaicans, generally, were unaware of autism. But for Gisselle Noble, who will be 19 in October, the fear and uncertainty that family members might have experienced in the initial stages of the diagnosis have been replaced by nothing but pure love for her.

"Family support has been overwhelming. The amount of love she gets can share for six other autistic kids," remarked her mother, Sheron Francis, as she sat in her living room in Parry Town, St Ann, speaking with Family and Religion.

That family support might be the key reason why Francis was able to overcome her initial reactions, in reasonably good time, to her daughter having the neuro-developmental disorder, and making her an even stronger mother today.

Gisselle, affectionately called Sade, appeared normal up to one-year-old, after which, signs started appearing that suggested that all wasn't right with her.

"She started talking, one-one word, then all of a sudden, she wasn't communicating at all," Francis explained.

After several visits to the doctor and several checks, her condition was diagnosed as autism.

"I was devastated. I couldn't do anything. I was just crying, crying," Francis disclosed.

support from daughter

She got support from, among others, her daughter Kaydian Harty (Gisselle's older sister), who sat in on the interview.

"I think, at that point, more than anything else, I was worried about Mommy because I can only imagine what a mother would be going through," Harty explained.

"After hearing that diagnosis, we saw what it did to her. She kept questioning it at some point. For me, the initial reaction was to be there for her."

"We're a closely knit family; me and my big sister, we made the trips into Kingston with our mother. We were there at every problem, at every therapy visit, everything. Our biggest thing was to basically be there to support her."

It took her a while, but Francis finally accepted the reality.

The reality, also, was that there were now several challenges associated with her daughter's condition that the mother would have to contend with.

"I had two other daughters who were in high school, and so it was really tough going to Kingston twice per week for therapy. Eventually, we stopped going," she disclosed.

One initial challenge was to take up the responsibility to care for Gisselle at home.

She was placed in a preparatory school in Ocho Rios, where she was getting real help from a teacher who was from overseas. However, after that teacher departed, Gisselle was pulled from school and some amount of home schooling began.

common problems

Gisselle's diet was also a problem at one point. Then there were days when she would throw a temper tantrum and the family would have a hard time dealing with it.

Communication and socialising are also common problems associated with autism, and the family say they were not spared.

Harty said time was the key factor in dealing with problems associated with Gisselle's condition as the family searched for solutions.

"Time, because it's over a period of time we really learnt how to deal with everything," she explained.

"For example, when she was going through the tantrum period - they kind of get a little aggressive - that was also tough because you find that she was acting up and getting a bit out of hand. We were basically baffled as to how to deal with it, but as time progressed, we found ways and means. We found out really what was causing all of it."

"Where her diet is concerned, it has evolved. When she was diagnosed at first, the only thing she would eat was sausage and fried ripe plantain. Now she eats everything. She eats from the family pot, whatever is cooked. It's over a period of time and interacting with her that you learn how to deal with everything."

Another key factor in dealing with the situation, Harty explained, is that Gisselle is basically stuck in a routine and, as such, has become predictable. This helps in controlling her behaviour.

"So, in the morning, it's breakfast and then a shower for her, then she'll watch certain programmes on TV.

"At nights, at 7 o'clock, she wants to watch Prime Time News. I guess it's because growing up that is what she has always seen. Taking that away is like breaking her routine, so if we change the channel, it's problems."

Over the years, too, Harty has learned how best to communicate with her sister, who rarely speaks. She has also developed a special love for her.

"I still come home and kiss her every evening because she's still like a child to me. That sense of being protective as a big sister, it kicks in."

They go out together, mostly on weekends, in an effort to help improve her social behaviour.

familyandreligion@gleanerjm.com