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Mom and autistic child through Africa

Having a ten-year-old child on the autism spectrum is challenging enough. Taking her on a trip from London, England, to East London, South Africa, on a bike with a sidecar was both courageous and ludicrous at the same time, Melanie Cowpland (43) told Weslanderlast week on their stop-over at Langebaan.

Melanie, an experienced traveller, artist, author and spiritual coach, drove the bike, while Sofia (10) navigated. Sofia was diagnosed with autism when she was four years old.

Their trip started on 10 November last year and their main aim is to raise awareness about girls with autism. They tried to encourage parents to help their autistic children realise their potential as most autistic children are very gifted.

Throughout the trip Sofia was resilient and coped well with all the changes, planned and unplanned. However she needed the constant assurance of knowing precisely where they would be going next.

Melanie took the months leading up to the trip to emotionally prepare Sofia to cope with the cold weather they would face, and did get in Europe, especially in Austria.

Mom was astounded when Sofia at times became the cheerleader that told her to go on to their planned destination when she wanted to cut the day’s journey short because of adverse weather.

Sofia had to take risks, a very difficult thing for any autistic child, and ended up riding on camel back, climbing to a heritage site and visiting a volcano. She learned how to read maps, road signs and calculate distances and travel time. She was forced, through sitting in the sidecar, to take notice of her surroundings and once she did, she was the one who would attract Melanie’s attention to a bird or the scenery.

Sofia still finds meeting strangers a challenge, but the trip has taught her to confidently greet people and develop interactive social skills.

“It was definitely the right decision,” Melanie said, although their journey isn’t finished. They hope to reach East London this Sunday, 7 August. All funds raised goes to the Adventure Autism Foundation, which they have set up to manage the funding of the trip. Any excess money will be donated to National Autistic Societies. To read more, visit their blog at adventurewithautism.wordpress.com

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