“Your life is in your hands, you can change it. Nothing is impossible – I changed my life” — Lena Harutyunyan: from despair to inspirer
“My son was 1.5 year when I first ran into the reality. We discovered he had autism. A big test was awaiting me in this life. I was disappointed with the world, life, relatives, friends, my own mother and father, even myself,” Lena Harutyunyan says, and her eyes fill with tears.
The past 11 years were full of despair, fears, frustration and uncertainty for Lena.
“I avoided eye contact with people in the street, I changed my way in the street to avoid acquaintances and their questions, made excuses for my Narek, as if I had committed a crime, and it seemed to me that everyone was blaming me… However, those were only my thoughts, my fears, rejection, escape from the reality. I needed time to understand, accept, live and love again,” Lena said.
My son was one year old when he changed completely. He wouldn’t listen, react to his name, was restless, often cried, did not understand simple words.
After the diagnosis life became meaningless in a second for Lena who was always smiling, with shining eyes and full of life. She felt hopeless, pain killed all her hopes.
“My husband and I did not even know what autism was. We thought it was a development disorder and will never be back to normal. As if I were at the bottom of a big well, and nobody could pull me out of there, and whenever they tried, the rope broke, and I stayed stuck there,” Lena says.
According to the Ministry of Health’s National Health Institute’s Information and Research Center, as of 2017 there are 564 children with autism.
The psychologist Tatev Vrshikyan says in Armenia the society is not ready to accept children with autism, many people even do not know what autism is.
“They may insult children with autism, call them morons, mentally retarded, look at them with surprise. This is due to a lack of awareness, stereotypes and mentality. Children and parents feel frustrated as they get such treatment. Parents become psychologically vulnerable, weak, highly sensitive, easily become emotional and cry. They start feeling alienated from the society,” the psychologist says.
The past 11 years were a period of discovering her and her family’s inner strength, developing her will power and turning problems to solutions. First, they try to understand what autism is. Afterwards they learn enough about the problem they start consulting different experts to develop their children.
“However, Narek was getting worse. He did not sleep at night, did not understand what I was saying, had hysterical attacks at home and outside, jumped and yelled, made inhuman sounds. There have been many cases when we did not take the child to events and parties because his behavior immediately drew all attention to us, people started asking questions with surprise in their eyes why the child does not speak or why he misbehaves. Lena remembers the difficult time she had. Psychological pressure and anxiety eventually resulted in quarrels with her husband. One day, after an argument, I ran to the bathroom, stood under the shower in clothes. Curled up like a baby in its mother’s womb. Water was pouring on me, and I was fighting with my mother in my mind why she gave birth to me the way I am, that I can’t even have a normal child, that nobody needs me. I started crying, or rather howling that I can’t carry this weight and as soon as my boy gets big, he will be taken to mental hospital… I was delirious,” Lena says.
She stresses that in this difficult situation her husband, very much worried about her, was thinking day and night what he could do to help her out. Eventually he found a job of English teacher for her in a school.
“My colleagues knew a little about the problem but I was always smiling and tried to avoid speaking about my problem, I thought why should I overload them. I always went into the classroom cheerfully and conducted my lessons happily. But one day I got a phone call from a friend who asked me if it is true that Narek is crazy. I rushed out of the classroom and started weeping. I couldn’t stop. One of my students came and hugged me and did not say anything. Perhaps she understood everything,” Lena recalls and her eyes fill with tears.
Despite all the difficulties, she says, she has never hidden her son’s problem from the society, from friends, from relatives. Looking back at the hardship she overcame, today Lena says that they could not imagine that she would find peace of mind, would crash the stereotypes in people around her and would lend a hand to other parents in a similar situation.
She says she is a different Lena now. She is strong, infinitely loving and resilient.
“This is a road where you lose yourself, and it does matter how long it will take you to find yourself, who will be beside you. There have been very sharp reactions from other people, and when I listened to them, I tried not to be mad because I knew it would destroy me. On the contrary, I did good things to people who talked to me like that, hoping that their attitude would change,” Lena said.
She confesses that she used different psychological tricks for her rehabilitation.
“I recorded 40 times and kept repeating that my child is getting better, that there are positive results, that we are healthy, happy, we are full of belief and love. Then I turned on the recording and listened to my own voice. I made myself think subconsciously that everything is good, did not allow negative thoughts to get into my head. Was I cheating my self-consciousness or was I not cheating does not matter. Most importantly, it helped me get out of that well… Time passed, I became strong and found the method that helped me,” Lena says.
After years of fighting and using different methods Lena found out about the American method of discrete video modelling and contacted its founders. She localized this method on her own expense, which helps develop speech recognition in her child, and achieve positive results.
The love of life, consistent fight and belief in her own self eventually changed the life of Lena and her son. Today Narek goes to an inclusive school, already speaks a little, writes, helps himself, his fine motor skills have developed, and there are significant positive changes in his behavior.
The Gemiini system of DVM method has been localized to teach a child about everything surrounding him or her, to recognize and pronounce words, sentences, and to communicate. The images or actions appearing on the screen are combined with an image of lips pronouncing the words repetitively. This method helps develop the passive word stock, develops the understanding of speech, creates an environment where the child concentrates and imitates speech, behavior, cognition.
Two years ago, Lena established Teach Me More Center for Learning and Development which deals with the problems of children with autism, intellectual disability and Down syndrome. Today the center employs special psychologists, speech therapists, special teachers, ergo-therapists, art therapists, psychologists. The center is based on the application of the DVM method.
“Currently over 60 children from Yerevan and regions and other countries attend the center. When parents first come to us, they are in despair, helpless, looking for an open door, just like I used to be. I know these stages through which parents go. But I am happy that today we can lend them a hand with our experience, give strength, belief and love to the parents who come to us. Months later I see the progress and positive changes in children. And the eyes of parents glaring with happiness inspire me and allow me to continue doing what I am doing,” Lena says, adding that the program is free for families in need.
For Lena who is strong, resilient and full of belief, there are no obstacles to achieving their goals but behind her achievements there is the memory and experience of hard days.
“I was the first to change. You shouldn’t moan and complain that people do not accept you and your child. If you sit down and cry that you are suffering, you are doomed, you will make the problem worse. You must change yourself first and present your problem to people the way it is are and you will see that people will smile back to you,” Lena says.
Looking back, Lena confesses that she carries this pain in her soul that her child has a problem. But those are stages that you pass and there are more to pass.
“You learn to live with that problem in harmony. I took the ownership of this problem and I can say that I have overcome it. I am stronger now. Your life is in your hands, you can change it. Nothing is impossible – I changed my life. This is our everyday life, we fight every second, we have stress, we cry, then we wipe off the tears and smile and go on living,” Lena says.