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Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder – A Health seminar

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is still an important health condition that most people are either completely unaware of or are grappling to understand since it became to public knowledge in the last decade or so. In this second part write-up, Health Editor MORGAN NWANGUMA concludes his focus on the seminar that was recently held in Lagos under the ‘Orange Ribbon Initiative’ on this subject matter.

Dr. Marcus D. Tillery of Technology and Social Change, Princeton University, USA, spoke concerning policies and education. Tillery who claims he had traced his lineage to Koko town, a Niger Delta community in Nigeria, is a consultant with Blazing Trails International Centre, USA. While speaking on the topic – Improving Systems and Policies that Effect Care, Education Quality and Access, highlighted the importance of (quality) education for children living with ASD.

He stressed that findings have revealed that indeed 1.2 million children in Nigeria suffer from ASD, adding that such a worrying situation calls for a closer attention by every stake holder. He called for the development of a more accurate data system so that the drive to deal with the issue can be more comprehensive, sustaining and generally successful.

On his part, Dr. Dayo Ajibade, director of Brain and Body Solutions Ltd, gave a very unique dimension to the issue and handling of autism. Speaking on what he termed Nutraceuticals – the Missing Piece in the Autism Puzzle, Dr. Ajibade emphasised the application of a nutritional approach to dealing with this health condition. He however pointed out that ‘Nutraceuticals’ is not necessarily about treatment or cure of disease, but stressed rather that the body of the autistic child for instance, is willing and ready to improve, but that it simply does not have the tools required to do so. He said researches have proven that this situation calls for the right form of nutrition and, or food supplementation.

Ajibade said that many at times when the mere addition of some essential vitamins such as Vitamin C, Folic acid, or Omega 3 Fatty Acids, with the right diets was administered, you would find the body coming back to life even from the brink of death! He stressed also that nutrient deficiency and an unclean gut could just be the major issues. He therefore emphasised the importance of detoxification; “You need to clean the unclean guts,” he said.

A mother of a 17 year old autistic son gave a rousing testimony as she delivered her soul searching and exhilarating presentation. Mrs. Dotun Akande is founder and proprietor of the Patrick Speech and Languages Centre in Lagos. Speaking on Growth of Autism/Special Programmes in Nigeria: Best Practices, she stressed the fact that because she was exposed early enough to ASD, and having gotten the necessary enlightenment, she was able to adequately care for and bring up her autistic son so that he is able to attain whatever possible height there is for him.

Her centre deals with using the available tools to give care and education to the children. Mrs. Akande’s 17 year old son passed out from secondary school graduating with 7As and 1C in all his subjects; he also won ‘The best student prize’ in academics,’ she said!

An Audiologist at the University of North Texas, USA, Ms. Suzanne Wright, speaking on Audiology Innovations, said hearing disorder is a common characteristic with autistic children but that research has shown clearly that they can actually hear with their brain. She stressed that even though technology has made certain devices available today, early intervention is very important in that language deficit which is another common factor in ASD, is clearly linked with the child’s hearing problem.

Dr. Ruth Brand Flu, a Developmental Child Psychiatrist in the United Kingdom dealt with the topic Intellectually Disabled vis-à-vis Active but Odd: Autism in Reality. Approaching the issue from the psychiatrist’s perspective, she identified shapers of the autism presentation as being the followings: school, family, society, environment, the cultural, and the spiritual factors. She pointed out also that of the number of identified intervention methods, music tends to be the most effective of all.

Dr. Brand Flu emphasised that music and tranquillity help a lot to stimulate and calm the autistic child, while chaos – noise, harsh talks, etc, readily upset and knock him off balance.

On her part Dr. Adeola Fayemi, a manager in Auburn University, Alabama, listed some of the visible symptoms and characteristics common to Autistic children/people such as:

  • They are often attracted to water, light/shining objects, pools, rivers, etc.
  • Noise generally puts an autistic child off
  • 49% of children with ASD attempt to elope and wander.

A Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Lawrence R. Sutton dealt with autism as it relates with trauma. To begin with, he advocated the need for good diagnostics and care in the design and treatment of people with ASD. He said research has revealed that the condition can be diagnosed as early as from 18 months of age of the child. He stressed also that as at now there is no known cure for the disorder, but that the bottom-line is that autistic children can be helped to attain their full potentials if identified early enough, and properly catered for.

Meanwhile Mrs. Ericka Daniels, an Occupational therapist with the Frisco Independent School District, Frisco, USA, talked extensively on how they have continued to successfully carry out their activities in schools, hospitals, clinics, and day-care centres. She said that in their work and studies, they have discovered that there are not just five senses (touch, sight, smell, hearing, taste), but seven i.e. inclusive of tactile body position, and balance.

On the overall however, among the speakers and attendees at the conference, everyone was of the general consensus that the experts need to teach the teachers of these children the skills required for intelligence building. A lot of concerted effort will be needed to take information and empowerment to the grassroots as well so that the people there will not be left alone. They also stressed the importance of pushing for appropriate legislation and implementation of policies by government, as well as the need to improve general teaching practice and inclusion.

The roll call of team members of this year’s conference was not limited to the already mentioned erudite scholars and presenters above, but also included other experts like Aliya Gordon-Redwine, a Behaviour Analyst from University of Colorado, USA; Denise Hetherington, a Speech Pathologist in USA; Dr. Sonya M. Armstrong, West Virginia State University, USA. Others are Ms. Patricia Oranye, a Speech Language Pathologist, University of Austin Texas; Dr. Andrew Olagunju of the Faculty of Psychiatry – University of Lagos; Ade Otubanjo, a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist working in America; Dr. Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri, a Consultant Neuro-Psychiatrist, and Mrs. Jessica Ellen Stamper, a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst, Dr. Yewande Oshodi, a Lecturer and Consultant Psychiatrist at LUTH, Lagos.

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