By ESTHER ONYEGBULA
Mrs. Ayo Idaomi is a renowned lawyer with over two decades worth of experience in the legal practice. She is also one of the project coordinator of the Annual Autism Seminar organised by Women of Worth, divinely-inspired anointed sister, popularly known as WOW VIVAS.
The group consists of women who have consciously decided to fulfill their divine destinies by impacting, celebrating and inspiring the lives of others positively. The seminar is an initiative tailored to create awareness, inform and educate parents and care-givers of children with autism. With the growing number of autistic children in world generally, and Nigeria particular, it is no doubt a noble project.
For a woman who doesn’t have a child on the spectrum, Mrs. Ayo Idaomi’s passion about this project is contagious. In a recent chat with Esther Onyegbula, she gave an insight into the second edition of the autism awareness seminar with theme Empowering the Parents and Caregivers. Enjoy!!!
Autism seems to be on the increase. What basic symptoms should parents and care-givers look out for?
Usually, the diagnosis comes in when the child is around two years or thereabout. Some of the symptoms are: delayed speech, hardly making eye contact, they may have sensory issues, they do not want to be touched, while some of them have other things attached to autism spectrum disorder.
Why is this year’s autism awareness seminar focusing on parents and caregivers?
With the growing rate of autistic children in the country, we felt there is a great need to empower and educate parents and caregivers of autistic children. Although presently we do not have a genuine statistics of children on the spectrum, the rate is relatively high. For someone who doesn’t have a child on the spectrum, one wonders where the passion to make a difference and impact lives comes from. Yes, I am a lawyer and I do not have a child on the spectrum. But every individual tries to find his/her purpose. There is something that is inside of me. I can’t explain it. But I believe that it has been deposited originally by God, and I have discovered it and I want to run with it. I’m not going to sit down and do nothing.
How beneficial have these seminars been to parents and caregivers who attended the event?
Care givers and parents now have more options on how to manage children with autism, because they have acquired sound knowledge from renowned professionals on autism. We had resource persons, doctors, an educationist and a psychologist from Nigeria and abroad. We also had a live video conference with Elizabeth Mitchell a member of the Training Institute Faculty with Geneva Center for Autism , which is basically an authority in autism.Most importantly, the seminar was free. The organisers of the event have not charged participant a penny. All they had to do was register online.
If the signs of autism are noticed on time does it make a difference?
Early diagnosis and intervention are the key. You know that the brain of autistic children is wired up differently. So if it is noticed early, like when the child is about nine months old and a specialist starts to implement training, there is a chance that the child will recover and be able to get integrated into mainstream school. It takes a lot of consistence. Imagine a child who is fully formed, probably in her teens. We have seen children who have been integrated because maybe their level of autism wasn’t so high. That is why it is called a spectrum. We have from low to high.
So, early diagnosis is very important.
How do you feel making a difference in the lives of children with autism?
You cannot quantify it. It’s awesome when a child who has never talked, nor responded to conversation, begins to respond and call ‘daddy,’ ‘mummy’, and suddenly begins to put words together.
How can the government contribute?
We need to split it into health and education. Autism course and training should be included in the curriculum of teachers in teacher’s colleges. They should be trained on how to identify and teach a child who has autistic tendencies. If a nursery or primary school teacher undergoes a course on how to teach children with autism, or how to identify children with autism, it will go a long way to help. It is important that it is in the curriculum from the very beginning.
In the aspect of health, when people take EMT and social science courses, they should explore deep. This is because to diagnose a child with autism, you need a psychologist, behaviour models and therapist. You need at least six specialists to give a single child one diagnosis. For health reasons, it is important that when mothers take their babies to health centres for immunisation, the health providers should take a good look at the child for these signs. These health providers can’t do that efficiently if they are not adequately informed.
What successes have you recorded?
We have launched the first autism directory. This, on its own, has empowered a lot of people. We included information like signs to look out for, medications, diet, special schools that will accommodate these children and different doctors available for consultation.
What are the immediate goals of the autism seminars?
Our job is to ensure that everyone has the right information on autism by bringing awareness from the low valleys to the high valleys. The future of the WOW DIVAS Autism Seminar is to project this forward, to build a centre where full diagnosis of autism can be done. A centre where all specialists needed for autism diagnosis are in one place, a centre where parents and caregivers would conduct all necessary medical tests and also have access to the services of an autism specialist.