In a very mellow atmosphere at an apartment in Zamalek, a group of young artists gather to draw under the supervision of Magd El Seginy. As they draw still life objects illuminated by yellow light, one exceptional student is ahead of the class. He has already finished the two still life sketches during his past session and draws a Modigliani picture. The student is 20-year-old Karim El Wazzan, an endearing autistic boy.
“I used to make him draw so he could sit still,” Franca, his Italian mother said, “but then we discovered his talent”. He used to pause cartoons and draw the image off the screen. “Karim always liked to concentrate on specific details,” said Franca “he would leave out the whole image and draw a door or a lock or a chest in the background”.
Karim’s case was discovered when he was 18 months old. He suddenly became unresponsive and stopped reacting to happenings around him and could spend hours staring at something. “At first we didn’t know what was wrong with him,” said Franca, “autism wasn’t that well known back then”. After going around doctors in Egypt, his family decided to take him abroad and that’s when they found out he had autism. At the age of five, his mother took him to live in Italy for a year.
“When I came back I admitted him into a school specialized for autistic children,” said Franca “but it was terrible, they didn’t care about the kids and left them in the playground all day”. Franca has been going around in a fruitless search for a good school for Karim, but to no avail. “We don’t have any schools that can help develop autistic children,” Franca said, “I think he gains a lot more at home”. Franca said that other parents with autistic children do not give them much attention and are sometimes even ashamed of them.
“We taught him to interact with people and we always worked on developing his skills,” Franca said “when he was seven years old he used to draw objects to us to explain what he wants. If he wants water he’ll draw a cup”. Franca used to dress him until he was 15 but little by little, she’s letting him do things on his own. His clothes, however, should never be re-arranged. He knows where each clothing items is and can’t locate them if their not in their proper place. He also likes to eat very specific things. “He only eats fries, sausages and pizza margherita”.
As autism has become quite well known in the past years, there is still not enough awareness for it. Karim’s sister Sara El Wazzan, arranged for an exhibition to be held for him at the Sawy Culture Wheel. The exhibition titled ‘Through the eyes of autism’ aims to raise awareness for autism and the potential that autistic people have. “Karim’s family believes in him,” said Magd El Seginy, his art teacher, “this is something quite rare in Egypt nowadays”.
El Seginy was an art teacher at the faculty of fine arts but left it because he felt that the university lacked resources and that the number of students were too many for them to get an education of good quality. He has been giving art lessons at his house ever since.
“When they told me about Karim’s case I was quite scared I wouldn’t be able to deal with him,” said El Seginy, “but after a while I realized that I am also autistic. I have a lot in common with Karim”. El Seginy has grown fond of Karim and notices a potential in him. “Karim looks at things from a very different angle,” El Seginy said “he notices the things that people usually don’t notice”.
He relayed a moment that has affected him greatly. “I was in Ain el Sokhna with some friends, and Karim and Franca were there, too. I went for a walk with him on the beach and he put his hands on my shoulder”.
Karim has an aura of pureness that makes any person who is in close contact with him fond of him. “I thank God that I have Karim,” said Franca “and I can’t imagine him any other way”.