The father who went to the ends of the earth to cure his autistic son: The strange and magical story of how a boy’s demons were tamed by shamans from the Kalahari to the Aboriginal rainforest
The father who went to the ends of the earth to cure his autistic son: The strange and magical story of how a boy’s demons were tamed by shamans from the Kalahari to the Aboriginal rainforest.
- Rupert Isaacson’s son Rowan, now 12, has severe autism
- The family travelled across the globe for ‘treatment’ for Rowan
- They visited shamans in Africa and Mongolian healers – which worked
The Bushman healers of the Kalahari were dancing a slow, stamping dance, their leg rattles shaking in counter-rhythm to the hand clapping and chanting of the villagers, their voices booming softly like the song of ostriches heard deep in the night.
Kunta, the shaman, danced over to me. His hands touched my head with gentle, fragile movements. They travelled down the back of my head, on to the knobbly bit where the spine almost meets the skull – (Bushmen call it the nxau spot, where sickness is pulled from the body and healing is pushed in) – down my spine to my pelvis and back up again.
Almost immediately, a deep calm came over me.
The great outdoors: Rupert Isaacson and his son Rowan who was diagnosed with severe autism as a young boy, at New Trails, the family’s centre for treating children with autism
Then his hands travelled to Rowan, my six-year-old son. Kunta went suddenly rigid, as if electrocuted.
His scream rent the night, then a moment later he was dancing again, but shouting at some unseen spirit, angry, his finger pointing, accusing.
Then, abruptly, he laughed, and on he danced.
I looked down. Rowan was fast asleep. As the dance went on, and the chanting grew louder, Rowan simply slept. Deeply, peacefully, the healing flowing over him like a river of love.
In 2004, Rowan was diagnosed with autism. It was as bad as we were warned it would be. He had tantrums like tsunamis, erupting even in sleep. He had no language. My son floated away from me, absent, not there.
He seemed happier, more ‘present’ outdoors. So we spent hours and hours exploring the little trails in the woods behind our house in Texas.
Travelling the world: Rupert and his wife took their son all over the globe to try alternative treatments for autism, including shamans and healers
One day, when he was a toddler, he’d got through my neighbour’s fence and into his horse pasture before I could catch him. Five horses were grazing there. In a flash, Rowan was in among them, throwing himself on his back, impossibly vulnerable and exposed.
My God, I thought, he’s going to be killed! Except they didn’t trample him; instead something extraordinary happened. Gently – very gently – Betsy, the grumpy lead mare of the herd, pushed the other horses away. Then Betsy lowered her head towards Rowan, still lying there in the grass laughing delightedly, and began to lick and chew with her lips, half closing her eyes. Something was passing between them, something magical.
So began the most radical and positive change in our lives. I began lifting Rowan on to Betsy, keeping one hand on him for safety while Betsy grazed, calm and contented. When he lay on her like this there were no tantrums, only stillness.
On our first ride together, we approached a pond and a great blue heron lifted from the water and flapped away towards the west. ‘Heron,’ said Rowan. He was talking! Only a week before, his speech therapists had given up on him, saying my son was unreachable. And now here he was, talking.
My experience of autism began to change. As the next two and a half years passed, Rowan and I virtually lived in the saddle together.
The tantrums did not return. He became toilet trained. And he even had other children over. Like a normal kid – almost. We bought a plot of land 15 miles from our home, complete with an old ranch house. We began to plan out a centre where we could bring horses and families affected by autism together. Its address was 151 New Trails Road, so we called it the New Trails Centre. It seemed fitting.
At that time, in my job as a journalist, I brought a delegation of bushmen from the Kalahari Desert to the United Nations in New York, to help draw attention to their battle against the Namibian Government, which had taken away their land……