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Our Stories

Ijabo & Liiban's Story

"I am most happy that I am not alone in my journey. I am grateful to be in a country that stands by my side."


I was scared. Before coming to the United States, I had never heard of autism – it just didn’t exist back home. I fled Somalia at 17 to escape civil war and find a better life. I found sanctuary in Kakuma; a refugee camp in northwestern Kenya that is home to more than 185,000 men, women and children escaping armed conflict. What I thought was a brief layover before resettlement turned out to be the next 15 years of my life. Malnutrition, outbreaks and malaria became a part of every day – but it was better than living a life under siege. Still, I never thought I would start my family inside the grass and mudbrick walls of a refugee camp.

In 2004 I was able to immigrate to Minnesota. I had always known, once I arrived in the United States, that I would finally have access to quality health care for myself and my children. But back then, before my youngest children were born, I had no idea just how much that would mean for me and my boys.


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As they grew, my two youngest sons Ayuub and Liiban started behaving differently than their older siblings had. Both boys cried all the time. Ayuub would not let me trim his fingernails or tolerate having his haircut. Liiban was aggressive towards others and would not tolerate anyone touching him. Trips to the doctor were almost impossible. I was very worried; I did not know what autism was, but I knew there was something wrong with the way my boys were behaving.

My doctor told me about a program available for children like mine at St. David’s Center, but I didn’t know what to expect. I had known children in Somalia who behaved in a similar way, but no one had ever given it a name. It was difficult to understand my boys had a diagnosis, and it was even more difficult to understand there were services that could help. It was difficult to understand there was hope.

I was scared. Before coming to the United States, I had never heard of autism - it just didn't exist back home.

Despite my fears, I came to St. David’s Center to learn more about the program. That first day I saw mothers just like me and children like mine, playing and smiling together. I was so happy to learn I wasn’t alone on this journey. Since then both boys have improved very much. Today, Liiban will let me hold his hand, and he loves to go outside and play. Ayuub has improved so much that some find it hard to believe that he even has autism. He is in kindergarten now and loves coming home and telling me stories about his day.

The staff have not only supported my children, they have supported me as a parent. They take time to answer my questions and explain what is happening in the classroom or in therapy. They show me how to support my boys at home and give me tools I can use in the community – at school, running errands, or even coming with us to the doctor’s office. Before St. David’s Center, I would feel depressed and stressed every day. Now I know there are people who can help and who I can trust, and services that can help my boys be successful in life. I can smile now knowing my boys will be happy and healthy. I hope every parent facing what we have faced can get the same support and care we have received. I am grateful for the support I have gotten from St. David’s Center and the support they provide to my community. I am grateful to live in a progressive country that stands by my side.

Meet Ijabo & Liiban


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