Ntokozo Kalako, a Xhosa mother and public relations professional, balances her demanding career and raising her autistic son Solly with resilience, cultural sensitivity, and a commitment to fostering understanding and acceptance within her community.
Photo Cred: Ntokozo Kalako | Supplied

Ntokozo Kalako, a Xhosa mother and public relations professional, balances her demanding career and raising her autistic son Solly with resilience, cultural sensitivity, and a commitment to fostering understanding and acceptance within her community.

 

Johannesburg, South Africa (29 June 2024) – Sharing our stories allows us to inspire and uplift others, giving them the courage to share their own. Ntokozo Kalako, a dedicated Xhosa mother balancing a full-time corporate career while raising her son, Solly, who is on the autism spectrum, recently shared her story with us.

Her journey is a powerful example of resilience, love, and the importance of understanding and acceptance.

Ntokozo is a proud mother to twelve-year-old Solly. Juggling the demands of a public relations career and the responsibilities of raising a child with autism, Ntokozo stands at the intersection of two distinct worlds.

“In this mix, I stand at the intersection of two worlds: the corporate sector and the journey of raising a child with autism as a Xhosa native, where societal understanding of autism is still evolving,” she shares.

Balancing these roles is not without its challenges. Ntokozo has often had to leave important meetings to attend to Solly’s needs. The key, she says, is openness and honesty with her employer.

“Creating a balance can be particularly challenging at times. There have been times when I have had to leave meetings and rush to my son’s school to attend to emergencies that relate to my son’s health issues. This can be complicated if your work environment does not foster flexibility, and if you are not completely honest about your child’s needs to your employer. My advice here is to be open and transparent.”

Ntokozo’s decade-long experience as a mother to a child on the spectrum has taught her invaluable lessons. Her son has imparted the significance of maintaining a routine, which has been instrumental in managing her professional and personal life.

“My son has taught me the importance of practising a routine, which has helped me thrive in managing my schedule at work. This way I am able to manage his needs at school, attending his therapy sessions, medical appointments, as well as his extra-murals. My number one tip is to learn from your child and understand that your circumstance at home is your normal. Children on the spectrum love to know what is going on and are not too keen on surprises, so let your child know what you are doing on a daily basis.”

Cultural sensitivity is another critical aspect of Ntokozo’s journey. She emphasises the importance of educating others about autism to foster understanding and acceptance.

“Solly and I have learned to embrace cultural sensitivity, which has the potential to negatively impact yours and your child’s mental health. Before my son was diagnosed in 2013, I knew nothing about autism and had to learn by reading and talking to other parents who were managing children on the spectrum. With this in mind, I am always prepared to educate others about it to foster understanding in our social circles.”

Language development is another area where Ntokozo has seen significant progress. After years of speech therapy, Solly now speaks three languages, a triumph Ntokozo encourages other parents to be patient for.

“Speech therapy and early intervention programmes may influence your child’s language development, as they might have to navigate between English in therapy and Xhosa or other home languages at home. It is essential to celebrate and preserve their linguistic diversity while supporting their communication needs. It took Solly three years of speech therapy to get his first word out at the age of five. Today he speaks three languages so I encourage parents to be patient.”

Ntokozo highlights the importance of connecting with other parents for support and sharing experiences.

“I have a mom support group that meets once a month and we all have children on the spectrum. This group is my lifeline. It is so important to find other moms, and lean on them for support. Tap into community resources and support networks for families affected by autism in your area. Engage with autism advocacy groups, and access therapy services. You can also visit Autism Resources South Africa, a newsletter about autism parenting and also stocks sensory toys.”

Building a holistic support system is essential for balancing career and motherhood. Ntokozo actively engages in play therapy sessions with Michelle King, significantly benefiting Solly’s social skills.

“It is very important to build a holistic support system that addresses your child’s unique needs, while empowering you to thrive in your career. This may include childcare arrangements, therapy services, respite care, and family support networks that cater to both your professional and parenting responsibilities. We have been actively doing play therapy with Michelle King who specialises in children on the spectrum. These sessions build positive social skills for Solly.”

Finally, Ntokozo advocates for raising awareness and promoting understanding of autism within the workplace and community.

“Take an active role in raising awareness and advocating for greater understanding and acceptance of autism within your workplace, community, and beyond. Be brave and challenge stereotypes to promote inclusive practices that celebrate diversity. As we celebrate World Autism Month, let us reaffirm our commitment to creating a more inclusive and supportive world for individuals with autism and their families, bridging cultural divides and fostering acceptance, understanding, and empowerment for all.”

Ntokozo’s story is a shining example of how balancing corporate life and raising a child with autism can be achieved with grace, resilience, and an unwavering commitment to fostering understanding and acceptance. Together, we can celebrate every individual’s unique strengths and contributions, regardless of neurodiversity, and continue to inspire each other with our stories.


Sources: Supplied | Ntokozo Kalako 
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Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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