In this week’s episode, Petra chats with Folashade about her experience as a mother of two in Finland. Specifically, she shares about raising a child with autism in Finland. Petra and Folashade both have expertise in this area, making their conversation extremely informative.
Folashade, who is Nigerian, has lived in Finland for 8 years. Just before her older daughter turned four years old, Folashade began studying to become an early childhood educator in Finland. During her studies, Folashade learned about early signs of autism.
She recognized some of these behaviors in her oldest daughter. For example, her daughter did not respond to her name and had a difficult time switching between tasks. Folashade decided to contact Neuvola for guidance.
At first, the nurse at Neuvola believed that her daughter’s speech delay may be caused by exposure to three different languages. However, at 18 months, her daughter still had not developed basic language skills nor begun responding to her name. Folashade sought testing, but encountered resistance from the health professionals at Neuvola.
“It’s only normal to be concerned,” she said. “When I think about it, I wonder why the nurse wasn’t proactive. I have heard one or two parents who say they have had nurses tell them the same.”
Finally, Folashade convinced the doctor that her daughter needed to be assessed. After Folashade crossed that bridge, she found the Finnish healthcare system to be very helpful. She was assigned a developmental counselor who helped Folashade navigate the services available to her.
Since her daughter’s diagnosis, Folashade has learned more about raising a child with autism. Despite having learned about autism during her studies, receiving her daughter’s diagnosis was still a bit of a shock.
“When the diagnosis came, the first thing I experienced was some sort of fear,” she said. “How am I going to cope with this journey? Where are we going to start from?”
She was particularly worried about how she would manage raising her daughter when she had no familial support nearby. However, Folashade learned to accept her daughter’s diagnosis over time.
Folashade took courses designed to help parents understand and support their children. This allowed her to not only learn more about autism, but also to connect with other parents who were dealing with the same challenges.
Folashade initially struggled with navigating others’ reactions to her daughter in public. Once, her daughter was playing in the children's’ section at the library, moving about actively while she played. A Finnish woman at the library who started a conversation with Folashade commented that raising her child must be rather like raising three at once.
Another time, her daughter tried to play with another woman’s daughter. Folashade was happy to see her take an interest in another child, so she was disappointed when the woman told Folashade that she did not want the girls playing together.
When similar situations arise now, Folashade takes the opportunity to educate others about the experiences of children with autism. For parents with children recently diagnosed with autism, she has the following advice:
“If you’re a parent and you suspect that your child might have autism… speak up,” she said. “Insist on having your child checked. Be your child’s advocate.”
Moreover, she hopes that parents will not view their child’s diagnosis as the end of the world. While she understands that an autism diagnosis is a difficult thing to come to terms with, she maintains that the treatment and support available to autistic children can help them lead full lives.
“Make up your mind that you are going to support your child in the best way that you can,” she said. “I have found autistic adults that are doing amazing… that’s what keeps me going.”
Listen in to learn more about the support available for families raising a child with autism in Finland and to hear about how Folashade managed to advocate for and obtain support and services for her child.