Lucia is a 7-year-old bubbly girl. She is playing with her mother in their living room in The Congo’s capital, Brazzaville.
Ngouembe Laskine Chalvee has progressively learnt to help her autistic daughter thrive.
The family discovered Lucia's condition when she was 4.
"At the beginning it was difficult for me because it was a first to me, I was just discovering that autism existed," the mother remembers.
"I tried to do some research, I spoke first with her father, it was a little difficult with him- he was optimistic saying all is normal and that she is going to talk."
It is when teachers raised the issue of Lucia's cognitive abilities that her parents consulted a neuropsychiatrist.
The mother then designed a special program for Lucia following the doctor's advice. It focuses on activities the child likes which includes visiting the park.
"I am very patient with her even when I take her to the park - I always prepare what she'll feed animals with, it can be biscuits and mangoes. She really loves animals. When we arrive there, she feeds the monkeys and we can hear her speak, she says 'baby monkey you can have this, this is for my little baby monkey, don't be bad' and in theses instances she talks."
Welcoming an autistic child
Parents of autistics children and an inclusive school are committed to raising awareness in the Congo. La Case Dominique welcomes children with autism and Down Syndrome. The school was set up in 1999 by the Religious Sisters of Saint Martin.
"The objective is basically to teach the Congolese," the coordinator of La Case Dominique school starts. The aims is to "tell them that an autistic child is a child like any other one, a child who must be welcomed, who has rights and whom we must try to understand in order to better accompany him," Sister Ida Louvouandou concludes.
Autism is a human development disorder characterized by social learning and communication difficulties, with stereotyped behaviours, highly repetitive gestures, and lack of coordination of movement.
To this day autism is considered by many Congolese as a mystical disease with witchcraft origins. Prejudice attitudes push some parents to hide their autistic children.
There are no official statistics on the number of autistic children in the country.