By Chioma Obinna
Stakeholders who gathered at the 8th annual Autism conference of the Guaranty Trust Bank, GTB, in Lagos have called for a solid support system for all Nigerians living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD.
They stressed the need for community support and harped on the role of the family and community in raising children with disabilities with particular reference to autism.
ASD is a neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in childhood and lasts throughout a person’s life. It impedes social interaction, communication, interest and behaviour of persons. WHO estimates that 1 in 160 children live with ASD globally.
Speaking during the week-long conference which brought together, early intervention professionals, speech therapists, industrialists, non-governmental organisations and psychiatrists, etc, the MD/CEO, GTB, Segun Agbaje, said ASD is hardly diagnosed and rarely understood in Nigeria, hence, every child living with autism face unique sets of hurdles at every stage of their lives.
Agbaje stressed the need to create solid and sustainable support systems that would empower children living with autism and help them thrive.
Speaking on the theme: Raising a Child With Autism: The Role of Family and the Community”, Agbaje said it would serve as a constant reminder to everyone that children living with autism are ultimately children.
“Today more than 10, 000 people have participated in our annual autism conferences, we have trained over 14, 000 people on how to manage autism and 3,200 children have benefited from our free one-on-one consultation services.”
On the role of government in autism advocacy, Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Social Development, Mrs Joyce Onafowokan said Nigerians are slowly coming to terms with global efforts in the science of health, which they oftentimes attribute to spiritual or traditional undertones.
Onafowokan who is also an Early Intervention Professional, said autism advocacy must be highly supported by everyone who understands the core of GTB’s work in changing the narrative of disability in Nigeria.
She said: “Government is playing a major role in ensuring that the infrastructure and capacity are built to provide early intervention for children from their birth to the age of four. Beyond providing the building and needed equipment, the state will be investing in thorough training for needed personnel and a more sustainable investment in the education sector of the state to ensure a constant pool of trained early childhood intervention and specialists.”
In her submission, the Director, Patrick Speech and Language Center, Lagos, Mrs. Dotun Akande, who raised concerns over the level of advocacy of health disorders in communities, called for massive awareness on health conditions in the communities, adding that children with autism also have potentials which the society must help them to develop.
She appealed to the government to wade in and create an atmosphere of relieving to parents who lack financial strength to take proper care of their children living with autism.
“Collaboration is about pulling strength together, sharing what you have. Our children will work well when there is a collaborative effort among families, schools, health practitioners, communities, government and private sectors,” she noted.