Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that is marked by the presence of impaired social interaction and communication in addition to restricted repertoires of activities and interests.

Unfortunately, despite the challenges posed by the condition, awareness is still very poor in Nigeria. As a result the over 1.2 million Nigerians living with autism and their families are left to bear their cross alone.

To say that ASD management is demanding on the parents, teachers and society at large is an understatement as persons affected by this congenital disability are usually misunderstood and coping with routine social and environmental demands can be more challenging.

These and more are driving the Annual GTBank Autism Support Initiative tagged GTBank Orange Ribbon.
Health & Living  spoke with the Bank’s General Manager & Group Head Corporate Communications and External Affairs, Mrs. Lola Odedina on the 2012 ASD Seminar themed: “Pathway to Early Intervention, Diagnosis and Lifelong Care”. Excerpts:

Guaranty Trust Bank is involved in creating awareness for this condition because we want to address the prevailing lack of societal awareness about these disorders in Nigeria. It is estimated that 1 in every 150 children across the globe presently have varying levels of ASD.

We are presently partnering with Blazing Trails International Center; a US based Autism specialist organization run by Dr. Anna Lamikanra in this regard and hope to improve awareness about the disorder and how to manage people living with them.

ASD as a neural development disorder that impairs social interaction and leads to repetitive behaviours. Autism as with other developmental challenges arise from insufficient development of a child’s physical, emotional or intellectual capacity.

It usually manifests in children before they turn 3 years old. These disorders are largely misunderstood by society, which makes it difficult for affected children to cope with the everyday demands of their environment and may also lead to varying levels of social stigmatiszation.

GTBank’s involvement with Autism and other developmental disorders started several years ago, when we funded the establishment of Patrick Speech and Languages Centre; the first educational institution for autistic persons in Nigeria, which is situated in Lagos.

While working with Mrs. Dotun Akande of Patrick Speech, we came to understand the challenges of people living with special needs and recognize that there was a need for someone to champion their cause.

We partnered with the National Society for Autism Nigeria to publish the first Fact book on Autism in Nigeria and officially launched the GTBank Orange Ribbon campaign in 2011, with the first Seminar on Autism in Nigeria.

Ten U.S based ASD professionals participated in the 2-day seminar, which provided an affordable avenue for autism practitioners across the country to learn advanced techniques for managing autistic persons.

Over 500 people participated in the 2 day successful seminar, which the Bank also streamed online to millions of viewers worldwide. Gains of the seminar include feedback from the seminar made us realise just how little people know about Autism.

We need more ASD practitioners in Nigeria, advanced technology and better teaching infrastructure to manage the increasing incidence of this disorder. We also need to establish a standard system for diagnosing Autism in all primary health care centres across the country since this is where most people discover their child is autistic.

We have  robust programmes for 2012 that will further help build capacity for managing autism in Nigeria. These include facilitating the establishment of a standard system for diagnosing Autism in children at toddler age in primary health care centers across the country.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the actualization of our beliefs that societal development is a collective rather than Government responsibility. This conviction has led us to support numerous initiatives over the years that assist the less privileged, promote the development of others and protect our environment.

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