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Terrence Nelson relishes the joys of fatherhood

BY JANELLE DE SOUZA Sunday, June 15 2014

“He’s my right hand, my left hand, my supporter. We are one another’s counsellor.” That is how Sandra Nelson described her husband and father of five, Terrence Nelson.

Terrence, 54, is the stepfather of two adult daughters, whom he raised since they were six months, and two and a half years old respectively He also has three sons — Richard, 17, Brian, 15, and six-year-old Evan, who has autism.

While Nelson admits dealing with two teenaged boys and a young child with Autism is challenging, he seems to relish his responsibility as a father.

“The best thing in life is your family life. Although I may let out a little “cuss” or get angry every once in a while, there’s nothing better. Whatever life dishes out to you, you have to deal with it. You have to keep trying your best with your children, but you can never be sure of their future,” he said.

Nelson’s parents were separated while he was relatively young. Both eventually died, so he knows the value of being a parent. As a result, he involves himself in all his children’s lives. He watches them carefully, tries to guide them, and prays for them.

He says he has no pre-conceived notions about his children, now ranging from ages six to 28, but would love and support them throughout their lives.

“Sometimes children have to burn to learn, so even though you want to keep them under your wings, you have to teach them right, then give them a little leeway, and let them learn from their mistakes,” he said.

“I was a teenaged boy once. I wasn’t easy. I know how it is, but I get them to be aware of what’s out there. You will get vex with them, eat yourself up, and quarrel with them, but you have to remember that they are youths and they might very well go right back and do it again,” he continued.

Evan, on the other hand, is a different story.

Evan was born “normal and happy.” However, around the age of two and a half, the disorder “clicked in.” Nelson recalled that Evan was at the babysitter when he opened the door of a stove and stood on it. The stove flipped over and landed on him. While Evan was not hurt physically - no cuts or bruises - he was changed. Evan even stopped making eye contact, he didn’t speak as much, and was generally withdrawn. “He just wasn’t like before,” said Nelson.

A few weeks after that incident, Evan was taken to the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex for his annual check-up. Nelson said the female doctor noticed that Evan “went back inside himself.”

The doctor thought that perhaps Evan had a hearing problem. However, after running some tests, it was discovered that nothing was wrong with his hearing. The doctor diagnosed Evan with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Nelson brought the family together and tried to explain the situation. “Sandra took it really hard, it was hard. But we got this thing, and we’re dealing with it,” he assured.

Sandra Nelson told Sunday Newsday when she first learnt about Evan’s condition, it took her awhile to get over it. However, she left her job to take care of her son as she would not trust him with anyone.

“He has the mental age of a three-year-old, but he’s very fast. Someone has to watch him at all times. He doesn’t know danger, he doesn’t have feeling in his skin like normal people and could damage himself, and not realise it,” she explained.

She said Nelson was a big support to her as taking care of Evan was a full-time job. “I try to do as much as I can before he (Nelson) comes back home. Sometimes when he comes home, and I haven’t cooked as yet, he doesn’t get any horrors because when I’m not here, that’s his job so he knows what I have to deal with when it comes to ‘Evie.’Anything I need, so long as he could afford it, he gives it to me,” she said of her husband.

“The stress comes down on the parents. The boys can’t really deal with him, and we understand that because not everyone could handle autistic children. The wife and I battle on. When one is tired, the other takes over. You can’t have a child with Autism, and one person taking the load. You need some time off, or else you might trip,” added Nelson.

With tears in his eyes, he spoke of a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) programme he saw with an autistic woman explaining how she live. This was around that time of Evan being diagnosed with the didorder.

“If it wasn’t for that programme, and the literature given to me by my supervisor at work, and another friend, I would be at a loss. I would have had to let go of my son. This country is one of the most backward places for Autism,” Nelson cried.

He said Evan attends speech and occupational therapy once per week, as well as three hours of pre-school per weekday, where the teacher tries to teach him his letters, and numbers. Although this is expensive, the Nelsons refuse to put their son in a home because they want him to continue to develop, and be able to interact with normal children.

Nelson said while they have seen improvement in Evan through the therapy, he did not believe there was anyone in Trinidad and Tobago with the skill to “bring them out enough” so that autistic children could be part of, and contribute to society. He decried the limited skilled workers, limited government assistance, and the lack of schools to educate the children.

“He’s smart. He understands everyone, listens, and obeys, but he can’t express himself. It can’t come out! Our biggest fear, the hardest thing when you have an autistic child, is thinking about when you get old, if you get feeble, how is he going to take care of himself?

“We have to keep him progressing. If we stop and allow him to regress, that’s it,” said Sandra Nelson.

When Sunday Newsday visited the family’s home in San Juan, Evan was busy watching video clips on a tablet. When the battery died, he switched to a laptop where he opened an internet browser, found YouTube in the address bar, and proceeded to navigate the website, looking for clips of Elmo on Sesame Street, and Super Why.

Today, Father’s Day, Nelson would spend a quiet day with his five children, with wife Sandra on a few days much needed break in St Vincent. He will cook Sunday lunch.

“I just want to spend a nice, quiet day with them (the children). As long as everybody is around me, I’m happy,” he said. That’s Terrence Nelson’s day today.

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