Zainab’s Journey navigating Autism in Religious Spaces

Attending the mosque can pose significant challenges for parents of autistic children, often leading to the difficult decision to cease attending altogether. The underlying issue lies in the lack of awareness regarding the unique needs of autistic children in religious practices.

Alterations in prayer schedules, particularly during Ramadan and Eid, can be distressing for autistic children, as can navigating crowded environments or coping with sensory stimuli such as noise and bright lights. Single mother Kathryn Irrgang recently shared a poignant film on Instagram, shedding light on the obstacles she faces celebrating Eid with her 16-year-old daughter, Zainab, who is on the autism spectrum.

Kathryn emphasized the stress induced by the uncertainty surrounding Eid dates, determined by the sighting of the moon, which can be particularly challenging for individuals with autism.

Zainab, despite her enthusiasm for Eid festivities, struggles in crowded mosque settings, necessitating the presence of a caretaker in the serene garden.

Kathryn carefully orchestrates a calm morning for Zainab, prioritizing familiar attire over elaborate garments to mitigate anxiety. Engaging in loud activities or visiting others’ homes is unfeasible for Zainab, who thrives in quietude. Last Eid, instead of venturing to the cinema, Kathryn’s daughters fashioned a cozy outdoor cinema using bedsheets, a table, and a projector, offering Zainab a tailored celebration she thoroughly enjoyed. Even mundane tasks pose challenges for Zainab, such as wearing a hijab, which she finds discomforting due to its asymmetry.

Kathryn advocates for her daughter’s autonomy in selecting headgear that aligns with her comfort, like a hoodie, rather than conforming to traditional expectations. Autism manifests in various forms, each presenting distinct challenges, whether it be aversion to change, sensory sensitivities, or social interactions. However, a consistent routine remains paramount for individuals on the spectrum. Zainab was diagnosed with autism six years ago, prompting Kathryn to opt for homeschooling amidst the disruptions caused by pandemic lockdowns and fluctuating school schedules.

This shift empowered Zainab to establish a personalized routine conducive to her well-being. Kathryn’s advocacy echoes sentiments expressed by Sara and Nadeem in London, who, grappling with similar challenges, founded Autism Mosque. They underscore the imperative of initiating dialogue within mosque communities to foster greater inclusivity and support for autistic individuals. Efforts to raise awareness have prompted mosques to implement innovative solutions, such as organizing separate prayer times tailored to accommodate smaller, sensory-friendly gatherings.

Additionally, provisions are made to address the needs of caregivers, ensuring they can fully participate in religious practices. Both Nadeem and Kathryn’s initiatives highlight the transformative impact of accommodating autistic individuals within religious spaces. Through their advocacy, they aspire to foster greater understanding and acceptance, affirming that every individual, regardless of their neurodiversity, deserves a place within their faith community.

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British Muslim Magazine

The adventurous spirit behind the pages of British Muslim magazine. As the Editor-in-Chief, Natasha leads with a passion for exploration and a pen dipped in wanderlust. With a keen eye for halal travel experiences and an insatiable curiosity for new experiences, she brings readers along on captivating journeys to far-flung destinations. Through her vibrant storytelling, Natasha invites readers on enriching adventures, where every experience is a window into the muslim world.

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