What does it mean to you when you want to ‘do Ramadan right’? It probably involves heading to the mosque often for terawih prayers, reading the Quran more, adopting healthier eating habits and more. While for many of us, this might seem doable, it isn’t the case for others with special needs, particularly those with hidden disabilities, like autism. For the sixth part of our Ramadan Experiences series, we spoke to Lydiawati, one half of the mother-son duo running the home-based business Lytmuz Test and how she prepares her son, Muaz for Ramadan ?
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P.S. Here are our previous articles in our Ramadan Experiences series so far! Check them out below!
- This Syrian-American Student Shares His First Time Fasting In Madinah
- This Singaporean Chinese Convert Shares His Experience On Finding Himself Through Islam
- This Singaporean Student Shares Her First Time Fasting In Melbourne
- This SG Chinese Muslim Hopes To Help Fellow Converts Navigate Through Their Journey In Islam
- Our Non-Muslim Colleague Tries Fasting For A Day And Here's Her Experience
What’s It’s Like Fasting With Autism This Ramadan 2022: Muaz’s Story
1. How is Ramadan different for Muaz?
He knows that there is a big difference between Ramadan and other normal days. We don't dine outside like we usually do. Even if he wants to buy food from his favourite restaurant, we have to remind him to take it away because it's the fasting month. He also refrains from snacking/eating as much as possible (of course, sometimes he forgets) after Sahur, unlike his usual self.
2. What are some of the things you do to help Muaz adapt to changes in his daily routine during Ramadan?Credit: Courtesy of Lydiawati
For him, the preparation starts before Ramadan, and we came up with a simple routine that Muaz has been following for a couple of years now. I prepared a visual board to mentally prepare him for what’s coming. The visual consists of 3 different steps with clear pictures and timing - sahur, fasting, and iftar. Every time he’s done with either one of them, he ticks the box next to each one respectively. He truly works very well with pictures! I pasted the visual on the wall so that he can see what everyone at home is going through, too ?
We also wanted him to try fasting as well. While it’s not obligatory for him to fast due to his special needs, I still want to include him in this holy month! So we started off really simple at first; by motivating him to ‘fast’ for 10 mins, then gradually increasing the length to 30 mins, and then 1 hour before iftar.
After years of training and preparing him for Ramadan for a few years now, it has become almost second nature to him. We have absolutely no problem waking him up for Sahur because he is an early bird. Honestly, we don't even have to wake him up, we would see him coming out of his room eventually! As time goes by, he is now familiarised with the same visual board we used every year (with only slight tweaks), so he knows when to sahur, when to fast and so forth. Right now, we are aiming for half a day of fasting (the second half of the day), so we can all look forward to iftar together! ?
3. What difficulties do you and Muaz face during Ramadan?
The first few days, he wanted to snack or suggested dining outside. But I had to remind him, that everyone at home is fasting. He understood really well. We rarely go out, too. On weekdays, once he reached home from school, he refrained from eating or drinking even though none of us said anything. If he really wants to eat, I don't mind, we can always try again the next day. But if he himself wants to persevere and join in, I am fully supportive. One thing I’ve learned is to never force him to do anything, rather invite him to join us if he’d like!
4. How do you and Muaz stay motivated to last through Ramadan despite these difficulties?Credit: Courtesy of Lydiawati
I treat the fasting month as a training camp not only for myself but for Muaz, too. He loves food! For him, food has to be delicious and comes really quickly, otherwise, he might be upset. Over the years, I have learned a very important lesson - the more he gets frustrated or upset easily because of something, the more we should work on it and try our best to stretch his level of patience slowly. Fasting teaches him not only to be patient but also to persevere, and stay calm, like anyone else! ☺️
5. What are some misconceptions people might have towards those with autism who are fasting?
Some people might think that we are forcing him to fast and pray as well. We understand that those with special needs like Muaz may not need to fast or pray, but truthfully any big or small chances to instil faith in Islam in Muaz, I would want to seize the opportunity! One of the best ways is to SHOW him, instead of giving long lectures. People with autism like Muaz, have really short attention spans, so asking them to listen to long lengthy speeches would be near impossible.
Fasting is not solely about abstinence from food and water, it is also about strengthening our faith, instilling patience and resilience, regulating emotions for the better and being kind and generous; something that I want to instil in Muaz. Ramadhan only comes once a year, so, there’s no better time to teach lifelong skills plus Islam at one time! ?
6. Lastly, do you have any tips or advice for Muslim families out there who have children with autism going through Ramadan?Credit: Courtesy of Lydiawati
Every child has a different level of ability, and as parents, we know where our child stands. At the very least, if they can't fast, try to eat together as a family during iftar and put all gadgets aside. By including our child, we are exposing him to a new experience. Hopefully one day, he understands the reason why we do certain things in a certain way ?
If you want your child to try fasting, take baby steps. For starters, you can try showing them their favourite food 5 mins before iftar (which you can increase gradually based on your child's condition), and tell your child this: "Wait for Azan, then we can all eat together." Your child will learn two important things: learning to be patient, and understanding important Islamic terms such as Azan. Your child will look forward to eating together as a family too! You can also take this opportunity to introduce new foods, such as dates, to them, and help fix their picky eating habits.
The biggest takeaway of it all is this: we should cherish and seize every window of opportunity to help our children with autism to be better in every perspective of their life. You can do the best you can for your child; the rest is up to your child and to Him ?
Lydiawati has shared a video chronicling a day in Muaz’s life so stay tuned soon! Let us know which stories from the Ramadan Experiences series are your favourite on our social media accounts!