I am Faisal
I am getting better every day
About The Blog
Hi. My name is Faisal Afendoulis and I am recovering from the symptoms known as autism. My Papa Steve Afendoulis is helping me create this blog. Please follow my progress.
This is our son Faisal
He is has the symptoms known as Autism
He didn’t speak until he was 8 years old. He was unable to make friends with other children, had restricted interests and repetitive behaviours.
At 2 years old his preschool told us they thought Faisal was autistic. He wasn’t able to participate with the other children. Faisal wouldn’t look at people in the face and was almost completely silent. If he could find a way to get what he needed without others he would. If he needed help he would pull at peoples’ hand and drag them. He couldn’t communicate verbally and making eye-contact was almost impossible for him.
Faisal found eating very difficult, he threw up at almost every meal and at 2 years old he was so thin people thought we were being cruel to him by not feeding enough. He was extremely sensitive to sound, touch and sight. The clap of thunder terrified him. The feel of his younger sister’s sticky hand made him throw up, as did the sight of her dribbling as an infant.
Faisal wasn’t interested in what other people were doing. He went through phases where he was obsessed with various things. For 2 years we were unable to go anywhere with an escalator because he would insist we rode it endlessly. When we tried to take him away he would scream which attracted a lot of attention from passers-by and was distressing for my wife and I. He liked trucks, but needed us to buy toy trucks almost weekly for many years. Later it was motorcycles and then aeroplanes. Breaking Faisal from these obsessive behaviours was very difficult but we found strategies to use this to focus his attention elsewhere, for example making him wait for a particular date to get a new toy in order to teach him about time and date.
My wife and I have dedicated our lives to Faisal’s recovery. By the time Faisal 10 years old we managed to reduce or eliminate most of the restricted interests and repetitive behaviours both through paid therapy and techniques we had created ourselves to help Faisal.
Social communication was what remained Faisal’s largest obstacle. He looked like any other boy. Children wanted to play with him and adults wanted to talk to him, but he wouldn’t look at them and would invariably throw a couple of words at them and run away. We needed to help Faisal find a way to build these skills so he had the best possible quality of life as an adult. We were determined to keep fighting for a future where Faisal could live independently. It was a dream to us. It felt ridiculous and delusional at the time but it was something to strive towards.
In 2013 a friend invited us to meet him at the Singapore Polo Club. We accepted and took both of our children. Being around horses reminded me of my youth in New Zealand where my family trained race horses. I was a painfully shy teenager and was quite withdrawn from my parents and siblings, preferring to keep to myself and think about what I wanted to do with my life. I had only one or two very close friends and found it hard to deal with social situations. Working in the stables made me feel good. The connection I felt with the horses was rewarding. When they trusted me they would do anything I wanted. They wanted to be my friend and they didn’t put any pressure on me to be a particular way. I decided that would try to use horses to help Faisal as they’d helped me.
By 2014 we were taking Faisal to the stables several times every week to expose him to the horses and the activity around them in the stable yard. At first his focus was only on the stable cats and he didn’t care about the horses. We started our daughter in riding lessons and Faisal immediately told us he wanted to ride the horses too. When we put Faisal on a horse it was clear he had a natural connection with the animal and the animal was relaxed with him too. We continue to this day to develop his riding skills, but we harnessed that affection Faisal has for horses to encourage him in another direction completely. We started teaching Faisal how to care for horses professionally in the hope we might prepare him for a job as a groom.
Early in 2016 we obtained permission to teach Faisal how to do some of the basic tasks in the stable such as mucking-out, showering horses and helping feed the horses hay. Faisal loved it.
Faisal became a different boy. He helped in the stables Tuesday through Sunday. He woke himself up at 5:30am and traveled to the stables on the city buses all by himself. He made friends with all of the grooms, stable hands, riders and other staff in the stables. Faisal started to look at people in the eye and speak clearly. He took his midday rest breaks together with the other men. When his work was complete for the day he showered and changed at the stables then cames home on the bus by himself.
Faisal became able to perform all the basic tasks required of a groom. He could groom or clean the horses’ coat. He could prepare the horses for riding, dealing with the most complicated equipment needed to play the game of polo. Faisal loved the physical tasks like mucking-out or removing the manure from the stable boxes. He was taught to mix the complicated blend of grains and special supplements fed to the horses twice daily. He learned how to bring the horses from the stables to the polo field for the players during matches. Faisal then took the horses back to the stables after they have been played to removed their saddles, bridles and shower them to help cool them down before returning them back to their stable boxes.
The transformation we saw in Faisal over the 2 years he worked with the Singapore Polo Club was dramatic and hugely encouraging to us all. Faisal's school noticed a massive change in Faisal which led me to develop a formal programme for underprivileged local autistic children in Singapore in which Faisal also worked with me as a volunteer.
We started to believe Faisal could have an independent future and work with horses professionally one day.
By February 2018 Faisal had his first part-time job with Stephen Gray Racing at the Singapore Turf Club. Initially he worked Saturday and Sunday. At the end of 2018 he was working a few weekdays too and Faisal was to become full-time in January 2020 when he turned 18 years old. His duties as a junior stable hand involved mucking-out the horse stalls, general maintenance around the stables, some horse handling and washing them down after their training. His understanding of horses and his duties continued to improve over the duration of his work with Stephen Gray; he became self-sufficient able to complete his work with very little supervision. Stephen commented in a written reference that Faisal presents well, was punctual, is good at preparing the feed and feeding the horses, gets on well with fellow staff staff members, is dependable, hard working and honest. Faisal worked for Stephen Gray until December 2019 when he moved to Taupō, New Zealand with the entire family.
" ... he is a fun to have around, is an inspiration to everyone in the stable and when he does leave we will be sad to see him go. I would gladly employ Faisal again."
Stephen Gray, Horse Trainer/Director, Copper Belt Racing Stables, Singapore, September 3, 2019
Since moving to Taupō Faisal has been volunteering at the Taupō RDA (Riding for the disabled) who report: He is very diligent and careful with all of his jobs assigned to him, is very careful around the horses in the paddock and is happy to take on more jobs when needed. He does like routine and seems to prefer to be prepared for any change. He enjoys his work and never has any complaints. Faisal has a happy disposition; he is very artistic and proud of the work that he does. The RDA team love seeing the drawings he brings in each morning and displays for everyone to see - he is very proud of his work which is great to see and we love seeing his smile while doing this. Faisal has riding sessions at the RDA too. He is quite a confident rider and is relaxed on his favourite horse "Trampy". Faisal always tries hard, listens to the coaches and follows basic instructions well – they just may need to repeat them a couple of times if needed.
Faisal also volunteered at the Waipahihi Botanical Gardens over 2020 who report: He has been a most willing and cooperative worker at weekly working bees, and gets on well with his fellow workers. He has an obvious interest in things mechanical, he shows a keen interest in the work which at times involves tree felling etc. with tractors and chainsaws.
The opportunities to engage Faisal in collaborative activities and extend his boundaries are many in his newly adopted New Zealand lifestyle. He enjoys swimming in the ocean in the Bay of Plenty and Lake Taupo. We have taken many road trips around New Zealand including over 10,00Km with Faisal as a pillion passenger on my motorbike. Faisal has been learning to ski and snowboard, he rides horses, drives a quad bike with a trailer, operates equipment at his volunteer jobs as well as all the yard work at home. He's been camping and fishing and is always keen to try new things. We are finding that breaking routines and creating new sensory experiences helps Faisal to engage with people in new ways. His use of speech continues to improve with his confidence to express himself verbally. Faisal can cook many basic dishes, cleans up after himself and is always keen to help in housekeeping chores. He instinctively helps younger children and those that require assistance, is caring, gentle and kind to others. We are hopeful that with continued exposure and stimulation Faisal will continue to move towards a greater level of independence.
Faisal’s Dad, January 2021