Owen is 12 years old, comes from Tennessee, and happens to have autism.
I had the privilege of photographing Owen from a distance at his horse riding lesson yesterday with Riding for the Disabled Association of Dubai (RDAD). Owen clearly enjoys his horse riding, and according to his mom April, it's his favourite activity.
I didn't get to meet his lovely Mom April like I usually do when meeting extraordinary children, so instead we chatted on the phone and she sent me the answers to these questions by email.
Reading over April's story was quite emotional for me, particularly the last question.
I think you'll agree that she is full of honesty, bravery, and compassion for her son.
Please feel free to SHARE these stories of extraordinary people to help us spread awareness and truth about living a life less ordinary.
1) Tell us a little bit about your family.
We moved from the USA to Dubai in 2008 so my husband could fly the big planes. I like to stay so he can live his dream of flying the big planes and I could live mine of having a nanny. My husband and I have 3 kids together, Owen, Matthew age 10 (11 next week) and Ellie age 9. My husband has 2 sons from a previous marriage age 23 and 25. We are just a typical family who loves being together and having fun. We enjoy hanging out with friends, visiting family, going out to dinner, going to the beach/pool, playing sports, and going to the park. And all three kids love going to amusement parks, if we could they would go to Sega Republic every week. We love to travel but its very challenging to do with Owen because exploring the unknown can be too much for him.
2)What does autism mean to you?
I know I might get some backlash for saying that but that's how I feel. Don't get me wrong I love my son, Autism is not who he is it's just a small part of him. Autism is very scary, heart breaking, stomach turning, exciting, misunderstood, unpredictable, unique, isolating, challenging, sleepless nights, and forever life changing. However, I'm thankful to Autism for teaching me how to love unconditional, have patiences, build a strong team (family, teacher, friends), be flexible, appreciate the small things accomplishments in life, and never give up or lose hope.
3) What has been your biggest challenge living in Dubai with a child with autism?
Autism is expensive and even more so in Dubai. Our son attends a non-profit special needs center which is covered for the most part by my husband's employer however, any other therapies (speech, occupational, physical and behavior therapy) Owen needs are not covered by the company or by insurance. When he had behavior therapy, it alone cost more than 12,000 AED per month. Speech, Occupational and Physical therapy is a minimum of 400 AED per session and most children with Autism need 2 to 4 sessions a week of these therapies. We tried our best for a few years to provide the necessary therapies for Owen but unfortunately it was unsustainable. He could still benefit dramatically from these therapies but unfortunately its no longer in our budget due to the loss of my job.
Many families talk about mainstream schooling being a big challenge and when we first moved to Dubai we had hoped Owen would continue school as he did in the US at a regular school. However, since Owen was not speaking or toilet trained the schools would not even consider him. He now communicates with his Ipad and it might be possible for him to go to a mainstream school. However, the cost of having an assistant for him at school would be extremely expensive and my husband's company would not cover the cost. So its not really an option for our family at this time.
4) What is Owen's super power, what would you like the world to know about him that isn't defined by autism?
Owen is smarter than people think. He doesn't speak but despite this and not attending an academic school he is able to read, write and do math. He can do puzzles like no one else I've ever met. He does a 100 piece puzzle on his iPad in less than 5 minutes and from left to right. If we could somehow tap into his visual power, just imagine what world problems he could solve.
He understands every word you say and most people forget this because he can't talk. One day he is going to tell us everyones secrets and surprise us all.
5) What is your biggest wish for the future of your son?
My wish for Owen is simple, I would like him to be a happy productive global citizen. But my selfish wish is to hear him say "Mom, I love you" just one time.