By Chioma Obinna
Experts and caregivers in Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD, have said that adequate awareness will demystify cultural and spiritual beliefs associated with the disorder.
The experts who stressed the need for early diagnosis of the disorder pointed out that creating awareness and educating families to know that Autism is not a spiritual problem would increase early diagnosis and improve management of the disorder.
The experts spoke in Lagos to flag- off the 5th edition of Guaranty Trust Bank Annual Autism Programme tagged: “Bridging the Gaps and Transforming lives”.
The free International conference which will run till 10th of July in Lagos will feature series of plenary sessions and breakout teaching sessions for parents, caregivers, practitioners, therapists and educationists.
ASD is a complex pervasive developmental disorder; it is a lifelong developmental disability which affects the way a person communicates and relates with people around them.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, not much is known of it and stigmatisation of children living with this condition makes it even more difficult to deal with. It is estimated that 1 in 150 children around the world is affected and about 190,000 Nigerian children are affected.
Co- Developer of the programme and Executive Director, Blazing Trails International Centre, Dr. Anna Lamikanra who noted that the conference has provided the leadership desired in the autism world noted that early diagnosis is key to helping patient live normal life.
“Awareness is key and intensive therapy helps patients live more meaningful life.”
Also, Founder and Proprieties of Patrick Speech and Language Centre in Lagos, Mrs. Dotun Akande admitted the conference has opened doors for indigent families said more Nigerians with autism are now coming out to seek for help. “We are seeing more Nigerians with Autism and the level of stigma and spiritual beliefs are reducing. Many parents have realised their children have autism. We have been able to tackle the issue of spiritual causes in Nigeria through awareness, more children are diagnosed early.”
She noted that when a child is diagnosed as early as two years, it gives room for a better outcome than when a child is diagnosed after 10 years.
Managing Director, GTBank, Mr. Segun Agbaje said: “GTB believes that children irrespective of developmental disorders can rise to the highest levels in the pursuit of their dreams when given a chance to cultivate their innate skills and maximise their potentials.”
Agbaje furrther stated that society on the other hand has a role to play in providing an atmosphere for children living with ASD to thrive. “We will continue to provide support for parents, teachers and care givers of children living with autism through our annual programme.”
He said the theme encompasses a broad array of concepts which goes beyond creating awareness for ASD to include increasing social justice education, helping individuals with special needs participate in the political process and providing access to technology for people affected with ASD.
Last year, the programme reached over 1,200 families and conducted consultations for over 700 people.