A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Waltz for Bashir
By Aba Taylor

Boy met girl. Girl met boy. Some time and nine months later, child was born. Two and half years after child is born, he is able to count up to 20 in English. Two and half years after child is born, he is able to count up to 10 in Spanish. Seven years after child is born, he can no longer count up to twenty, he can no longer count up to 10.  7-year old child cannot even count up to 5.

The story of 7-year Bashir Oliver is not as rare as one might think. At the age of two years old, Bashir seemed like any other Black baby boy. Jamila Raegan, Bashir's mother discusses how she began to notice Bashir’s behavioral changes at age two. Up until then she says, Bashir appeared to be developing “on time.” After the age of two, Bashir became more aggressive, while conversely, his speech diminished. Following a series of technical and developmental assessments such as audiological tests for Bashir’s hearing, the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale, or GARS was finally used. By age three Bashir was diagnosed with Autism 

Facts about Autism:

Autism affects 1 in 91 children

Autism affects 1 in 58 boys

Experts estimate that males are four times more likely to have ASD than females

Every 20 minutes a child is diagnosed with autism


In December of 2008, a public service announcement aired featuring 6-time Grammy winner Toni Braxton speaking about autism. Like Bashir, Braxton’s 6-year old son Diezel was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. Another African-American celebrity, Holly Robinson Peete has also used her status to raise awareness of autism. Having an autistic son of her own, and a father who struggled with Parkinson’s disease, Robinson Peete and her husband, former NFL quartberback Rodney Peete, founded HollyRod, an organization that seeks to find “Help and Hope” for those struggling with both Autism and Parkinson’s Disease.



Included in the great level of publicity that the Black power couple carries out is a children’s books called “My Brother Charlie” which was co-written by Holly and her daughter and tells the story of growing up with a sibling who has autism. Similarly, Rodney has penned a book called  “Not My Boy!: A Father, A Son, and One Family's Journey with Autism.” Both books from the family are scheduled to be released in March 2010. 

Because autism affects each individual differently, the term "autism spectrum disorder" or ASD is typically used. This encapsulates a wide range of abilities amongst individuals with autism. What makes ASD even more nebulous, is the fact that it is not exclusive to any one demographic, unlike other diseases or disorders such as sickle cell anemia, which affects predominantly people of African descent. Jamila points out that autism is “unlike any other illness” in that way, affecting people of all racial ethnicities. She cites Bashir’s classroom as a mini United Nations, full of his peers from all backgrounds with similar disorders.  


Yet, even though Jamila insists that autism affects poor and wealthy alike, she recognizes the disparity in intervention and treatment of autistic children based on socio-economic status. She notes how the government’s lack of interest and support in ASD medical intervention results in parents and others becoming disregarded and thus discouraged. This is especially true for low-income parents and those not covered by Medicaid.


In this way, Jamila sees exactly how and where autism affects Black communities the hardest. In response, this mother-David has taken the Goliath into her own hands. Jamila has founded the Bashir Project, a campaign spearheaded by other artists and activists invested in the future of her son. With events like a recent fundraiser in Brooklyn, Jamila will use proceeds “to assist with payment of Bashir’s education, medical necessities, and special needs not met by the Department of Education or Medicaid.” Understanding that these issues affect not just her alone, Jamila is eager to do her part in giving back, and serves as a resource for other mothers who are dealing with similar issues. Through SociaLight, her parent organization of the Bashir Project, Jamilla hopes to support families like hers and Bashir’s who manage not only autism but other disabilities as well. As a grassroots movement, both Bashir Project and SociaLight are always in search of support, and a website is in the process of being developed. In the meantime, Jamila can be reached at bashirsmom@gmail.com 

According to the Autism Society, being able to identify signs of the autism disorder early “can change lives.” Nevertheless, autism’s mysteries prevail as it remains an illness with neither a discernable cause nor a guaranteed cure. A current debate about vaccination has many taking sides, and sometimes color-lines are once again drawn here, particularly when the bigger issue of early intervention as it relates to medical access reveals its racialized head.

Symptoms of autism include: 
  • impairments in socialization
  • verbal and nonverbal communication
  • restricted play and interests
  • Lack of or delay in spoken language
  • Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms
    • (i.e. hand-flapping, twirling objects, etc)
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Lack of interest in peer relationships
  • Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
  • Persistent fixation on parts of objects

Thus, treatment and curing should not be confused.  While autism is considered treatable…Children do not outgrow autism, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes. As of yet, the cause of autism is not known, however there are several interventions that can help people with autism reach their highest potential. These early detections and interventions should be the focus for not only single mothers, low-income families and those receiving Medicaid, but also for caregivers and those in the medical field whom our communities turn to for basic health needs – aspects that our every day survivals depend on.