Mrs. Dotun Akande is the founder and Proprietress of the Patrick Speech and Languages Centre in Lagos. She is a strong advocate for Autism awareness in Nigeria. In this exclusive interview with GABRIEL IFINNWA, she speaks about the challenges facing children with autism in Nigeria, as well as roles parents can play in managing autistic children.
What is Autism?
Autism is a developmental disability that affects social and communication skills. People with Autism may find it difficult to understand how the world and people around them operate, and also find it hard to interact. In particular, people with Autism may have trouble learning, understanding and interpreting the unwritten rules of social interaction and relationships that most people without Autism can take for granted.
What are the symptoms of autism?
A child with autism will have delayed speech development or no speech by 18 months. Other symptoms include frequent repetition of set words and phrases; Speech that sounds very monotonous or flat; preferring to communicate using single words, despite being able to speak in sentences. Also, a child with autism will have the tendency not to respond to their name being called, despite having normal hearing; rejecting cuddles initiated by a parent or caregiver (although they may initiate cuddles themselves); reacting unusually negatively when asked to do something by someone else. They may also have issues interacting with others; not being aware of other people’s personal space, or being unusually intolerant of people entering their own personal space among others.
Autistic children may also develop little interest in interacting with other people, including children of a similar age; not enjoying situations that most children of their age like, such as birthday parties; preferring to play alone rather than asking others to play with them; rarely using gestures or facial expressions when communicating; avoiding eye contact; have repetitive movements such as flapping their hands, rocking back and forth, or flicking their fingers; playing with toys in a repetitive and unimaginative way, such as lining blocks up in order of size or colour, rather than using them to build something; unusual sensory stimulation such as covering of ears to loud noise among others.
Are there ways mothers can avoid giving birth to autistic children?
There is no way around this since we do not know the cause.
Is it true that autism is a social and emotional problem?
Yes it is for some and for others it is much more.
How can autism be detected?
What roles do parents have to play to manage children with autism?
Start intervention as soon as you know, and when the child is young, as early intervention produces great improvements. By attending trainings to learn more about how to manage their child; loving the child and looking at the best in that child; joining parents’ support groups to learn from others that have been in similar situations.
What are the challenges facing children with autism in Nigeria?
Limited facilities, lack of empathy from the community, lack of understanding by others, financial difficulties on the side of the parents.
How can we create awareness for autism?
This can be done through ‘Autism walk’, training of parents, caregivers and the general public. Also as part of creating awareness, the media have a big role to play. This can be done through radio and television programmes on autism; sharing of fliers, films, as well as the social media (Facebook, twitter, instagram among others).