A selfless bond  

Ahammed Kabeer and his nephew Shijas Hussain, who has autism, attempt to tackle everyday tasks by documenting their activities on social media. The duo has already won the hearts of many from around Kerala
Shijas Hussain with his uncle Ahammed Kabeer
Shijas Hussain with his uncle Ahammed Kabeer

KOCHI: "Shiju kutta,” is how Ahammed Kabeer addresses his nephew in every video he posts on the social media account @shijasautism. When Shijas chops vegetables perfectly or places grocery items in their correct spots, Kabeer proudly uses the endearing term. At times out of sheer joy, Shijas returns the endearment with a quick peck on his uncle’s cheeks. 

22-year-old Shijas Hussain has been diagnosed with autism since the age of two and from thereon he required substantial support from his family for everyday tasks. And in the past seven years, Shijas has been actively involved in household chores, accompanying his family for shopping, dicing vegetables, and even cooking a storm in the kitchen.

Such improvement occurred in his life ever since his uncle decided to be with him for the rest of his life. Kabeer, the eldest in his family, took on the responsibility of running the household at a young age after his father became bedridden. He worked tirelessly to provide a better future for his eight siblings. Throughout this journey,

Kabeer chose not to start a family of his own. Instead, he promised his younger sister Umaiban, Shijas’ mother, to always stand by her through thick and thin.

“My sister and her family had a hard time initially as Shijas required constant attention. If left unattended, he could harm himself. So I decided to be with her family and Shijas,” says Kabeer, who is a farmer in Palakkad.

Shijas’s mother Umaiban is grateful for her brother’s unwavering support. “Although Ikka never had children of his own, he was the one who first noticed that Shijas wasn’t showing the intellectual growth typical of a two-year-old. Despite my initial reluctance to seek medical advice, Ikka insisted and that led to Shijas’ diagnosis. There came a point when managing my son’s needs became overwhelming, and I even considered ending my life. But Ikka chose to stay with us,” says Umaiban. 

Shijas received speech therapy and other training while studying in a special school. Due to the need for daily therapy, the family faced challenges finding local training centres in Palakkad and often had to travel to Coimbatore and Bengaluru.

“Traveling back and forth solely for training is difficult,” says Kabeer. “We believe that along with professional training, the family must understand the condition, be actively involved, have patience, and dedicate time to be with the child. Change won’t happen just with money, it requires hands-on effort and commitment from the family,” says Kabeer.

Through their YouTube and Instagram accounts, Kabeer and Shijas document their daily activities. Under Kabeer’s guidance, Shijas effortlessly completes various chores. Whether kneading dough, washing utensils, or doing laundry, Shijas participated in every family activity.

The idea of documenting Shijas’s daily activities cropped up when his family wanted to make him more familiar to the public. “Shijas had a habit of leaving the house without our knowledge. We tried tying a band on his hand with his name and contact details, but he would quickly remove it. By releasing videos, we hoped the public would become aware of him, making it easier to identify him if he ever got lost. Now, with these videos on public platforms, people recognise Shijas and approach him when they see him out,” says Kabeer.

The family wanted Shijas to be equipped with the knowledge of doing certain activities by himself. “All of these will help improve his fine motor skills and as well as support his cognitive ability,” says Kabeer. 

The videos also serve the purpose of spreading awareness of the condition. “They act as a ray of hope for many who have family members with autism. The raw footage etches the difficulty and the pure joy of completing a task,” says Kabeer.

According to him, earlier it was difficult for Shijas to do many activities. “He would only cooperate if we offered treats or his favourite foods. He was restless and impatient, and when we took him out, he often made loud noises, making it challenging for others. Now, he has understood various scenarios and behaves accordingly. Most importantly, he also pays attention to us.”

In the channel, the majority of the videos are on cooking. “We make cooking videos to keep him motivated and engaged in the activities,” adds Kabeer. And it is because Shijas is a big-time foodie. “I learned cooking for Shiju kuttan. He loves to have hot and warm food, straight out of the fire. So he is also interested in cooking, especially his favourites,”

Kabeer smiles.

Shijas has made significant progress, says his uncle, adding that, in future, he will make more progress in mastering his daily tasks. “Now, when we cook, he can even point out missing ingredients, which is a big step forward. Also at this age, he is earning revenue from social media. We are all proud of him,” beams Kabeer. 

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The New Indian Express