Wednesday 20 February 2019

Mum tells of struggle for autistic son to live in Africa

Great Agbonlahor, who suffers from autism, now lives in Nigeria after his family were deported from Ireland
Great Agbonlahor, who suffers from autism, now lives in Nigeria after his family were deported from Ireland
Olivia Agbonlahor finds it increasingly difficult to deal with Great's behaviour which has worsened since the family were deported from Ireland despite a campaign to stay
Great plays computer games geared towards autistic children as his twin Melissa looks on

Shane Hickey

They had a life in Ireland, and a chance.

Now, 16 months after being deported to Africa, Olivia Agbonlahor's little boy is virtually a prisoner in his own home.

Some have said her son, who has severe autism, is a "wicked" child. Others think he is possessed by voodoo.

In Clonakilty, Co Cork, a special needs assistant had helped him make huge progress. The seven-year-old was happy and he was improving.

Now things are becoming hopeless again with all the progress made by Great regressing by the day.

The taunts were so bad when she arrived in Nigeria with the severely autistic boy that she decided to move again. Now in Ghana, life is only slightly better.

Great is kept inside as his mother tries to school him with no hope of the special needs care he enjoyed when the family lived in Clonakilty.

As his condition deteriorates, it is a constant struggle to keep him calm day after day in their apartment in the coastal capital of Accra.

Olivia relies on a computer program sent from Ireland to occupy her son. Olivia and her twin children Great and Melissa were deported in 2007 and there is only a slim chance they will ever return.

Their solicitor Kevin Brophy last night admitted he was not "hugely confident" that a High Court appeal against the deportation will succeed when it is heard on March 10.

The High Court ordered last year that the Agbonlahors be deported despite a vigorous campaign to keep them in Ireland. Since then, the European Court of Human Rights has intervened in the case of a Sligo-based Nigerian woman who lost her High Court bid to prevent her deportation.

The court has asked the Government not to deport Pamela Izevbekhai, who fears her children will be subjected to genital mutilation if they have to return to Nigeria, pending the hearing of her case. Mr Brophy pointed out that Great's legal team had made the same argument for his sister Melissa.

During the long months since their departure, there has been a constant sadness hanging over the Agbonlahors as the children try and deal with their drastically changed surroundings.


Great's autism is simply not recognised due to the common stigma in Africa against autism. "I have to do my best, but it is not easy," said Olivia.

"His behaviour is getting worse every day -- that is the problem. He cannot play with other children. People ask 'what is wrong with this boy' all the time," she said from her home in Ghana.

While the teachers that helped the family when they lived in Clonakilty and Killarney have sent over computer learning aids for Great, there is little else to occupy him.

"The only thing that keeps him calm, that he can stay with when you leave him is the computer -- there are some CDs that they burned from Ireland, the special needs assistants for him, to be practising," said Olivia.

"He can do that for hours but he cannot be doing that all the time, it is not good.

"In Africa they believe that there is something which is wicked about him -- that is the problem. It is always the case, there is a lot of stigma. That is Africa, everywhere."

The move has also severely affected Great's sister Melissa, who has had to settle into the school system in Ghana.

"Melissa was saying that they use a cane in the school when they don't know something. They cane too much. But I have no choice. She has to go to school," said Olivia.

Currently living on money sent from her husband, who is living in Italy, Olivia says the effects of spending days at home with her autistic son have had their own effects on her.

"Because of that, me myself I cannot have friends, I am isolated because of that.

"I just keep on crying and praying every day," she said.

Memories of Ireland are always too in the thoughts of the children. Great constantly talks about his former special needs assistant Mandy while Melissa draws pictures of the friends she had here.

"Sometimes he starts screaming," she said.

"How will he integrate in this society? What is going to happen to this boy -- how will he get help? I am always in contact with my friends in Ireland, they have been very helpful, all my supporters."

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