Experts have said there was need to give special care to people with developmental disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as they could excel in visual skills, music, mathematics and art.
They made this known at the 6th Annual Autism Conference organised by Guaranty Trust Bank PLC in Lagos titled: ‘Managing Autism: The Next Generation, Consideration and Resources.’
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior. Parents usually notice signs in the first two years of their child’s life.
A behaviour analyst, Mrs Dotun Akande said, “Autism is the most severe developmental disability, appearing within the first three years of life. It involves impairments in social interaction such as being aware of other people’s feeling and verbal and non-verbal communication. Autism is a behavioural disorder, which many in our society believe to be a spiritual attack.”
Akande, who is also the founder of the Patrick Speech and Languages Centre, Lagos, said, “many families have taken this term to mean that there is no hope for their children living with autism. With our work with families, we have seen many of these children excel in different fields with little or no trace that they were ever on the spectrum.
“We also discover adults with late diagnosis display spectacular talents in the area of their interest and strength. This can be converted to meaningful employment in the community, thereby improving their quality of life.”
Managing Director, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc (GTB), Mr Segun Agbaje said there was an annual increase in the number of people with autism due to lack of awareness and diagnosis.
Agbaje said that the actual number of autism patients in Africa was still unknown, but estimated that no fewer than 500,000 children and adults were autistic in Nigeria, adding that there is need to create awareness for ASD and design programmes to empower them.
“Autism awareness is very important because it is a behavioural disorder which most people do not want to talk about. Autism patients are special people and that is the main reason we are interested in them, especially in Lagos and Abeokuta.
“We have decided to grow autism programme from children autism level to adult autism level because these set of people also have talents.”
According to him, GTB promised to create employment to autism patients because they were also important in the society.
In her presentation, Dr Elizabeth Campbell, a psychiatrist at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Idi-Araba, said statistics taken three decades ago indicated that 0.7per cent of the populace were living with autism.
She said that there was need for an updated survey as there had not been any large demographic survey till date.
Campbell said that the diagnosis for ASD was usually done by medical personnel.
She said, diagnosis is low because most of the health facilities are no longer accessible, affordable or acceptable by the citizenry.
On the management of autism, she said the World Health Organisation (WHO) had stipulated that community approach is best for chronic medical conditions to reduce neglect and violation of human rights.
She said that an organised and sustained support would be able to facilitate the provision of quality care for such marginalised group.