The misunderstood genius in autistic people

By Brenda Ochieng | Friday, Aug 31st 2018 at 16:13
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James Karanja, the chairman of Autism Support Centre Kenya and Edwin Mburu. [Carlisto Ochieng']

Imagine sitting in a mid-sized bus yearning for the moment you will reach your destination then out of nowhere a passenger blurts “What if this bus rolls  right now?” followed by sudden awkward silence.

This was the case when Edwin Ruhiu Mburu boarded a bus home from school and shared this with his former teacher much to the surprise of the other passengers. What the passengers did not know at the time was those words were simply a representation of the curious and imaginative mind of a young autistic boy.

He wished no one any harm but simply sought answers to questions one would usually shy away from.

Autism is a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterised by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.

Edwin always wanted to be a mechanic when he grew up. This was often exhibited in his ability to draw an array of public service vehicles ranging from minibuses to heavily built buses that ply long distant routes. That teenage dream stood the test of time and slowly progressed into an undying desire to practice vehicle modification.

“My passion is to do car modifications. Although I never trained to be a mechanic I believe I can do a great job. That is what I really want to do,” says the 29-year-old.

Edwin was born in Gatanga, Central Province, and having been diagnosed with Autism at a young age, his parents ensured that they got him all the support he needed. He attended different primary schools, including a special school where he met James Karanja, a teacher at the time and current chairman of Autism Support Centre Kenya.

 Autism is a developmental disorder that is yet to be understood by many people. Records show how autistic individuals have been undermined because of lack of awareness and cultural beliefs which label them as ineffective.

In contrast, autistic people have an untapped level of intelligence and a mode of approaching tasks and portraying creativity that they may not be privy to.

According to Edwin, he has always been treated properly by those who know him well. He is known as an honest, hard-working, determined and focused man. Duncan Gacheru, Edwin’s younger brother only understood his brother’s plight at the age of 13 and he is now fully aware of the misconceptions people have about autism.

“When someone hears Edwin talk about his dreams they don’t see the sense in it,” says the 21 year old.

“We may view ourselves as normal but we have issues because we do not accept them as they are.”

Finding a job in Kenya can be a long and tedious process that does not spare even the highly-educated. Most of those who are lucky enough to get employment end up working in areas outside their field of study just to fend for themselves.

Edwin studied Software testing at Strathmore University iLab (2016-2017) and as appreciative as he is for all he has learnt, his dream still remains unfulfilled. All he needs is for someone to take him seriously and give him a chance to not only learn more but also put his passion into practice

As far as misconceptions go, people often dismiss autistic people because they are judged by appearance. Edwin is living proof that the disorder does not define him.

At 18, he casually said he would go for driving classes and this became a reality. He now has a valid driving licence. Edwin pays attention to detail from the first time he sees someone new.

A brief head to toe scan and a study of one’s mannerisms is enough for him to know how to relate with that person.

I want to do body kit placement, spray painting, graphics, white prima placement, changing seats, rebuilding the engine, new chrome exhaust pipe placement, new car radio installation, woofer placement, spoiler placement, changing wheel disks, placing neons, inserting small screens on the seats and placing new rims and tyres.”  That’s how he thinks of cars.

He repeats this to anyone who will care to listen to ascertain that he knows exactly what he is talking about

According to James, people often assume autistic people can’t perform and it is hard to find a record of people who have excelled here due to lack of support.

What is the end goal? To buy his own car, land, build a house and ultimately manage his own garage.

As Salman Rushdie said “A man who invents himself needs someone to believe in him, not only the need to be believed in but the need to believe in another.”

 Edwin needs someone outside his circle of friends and family to believe in him and make his dream come true.

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