Specialists screening an autistic patient

Inspired by a visually challenged lady, the Ize Therapy and Vocational Centre opened its doors and provided free therapy for autistic children and their parents to mark World Autism Day, Olawale Ajimotokan reports

A special home for children with special needs, Ize Therapy and Vocational Centre, marked the World Autism Day when it organised free screening and therapy for children suffering from autism.

It was the first major social engagement by the centre located in Gwarimpa, Abuja, almost two months after it was conceived for individuals with special needs by Aishat Ize Jatau.

The centre is equipped for children suffering from Down-Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Visual impairment, Autism, Mental and Psychological break down, Dyslexia and the physically challenged kids, among others.

It assembled a team of experts in different medical fields that evaluated the psychomotor skills of children with autism to determine how they can make their lives better and cope academically.

The professionals ranged from doctors, clinical psychologists, speech therapists, physiotherapists, psychiatrists, vocational therapists and vocational skills acquisition professionals.

The assessment was done to see how the children can cope without their parents. The parents were also offered free counselling and also had their blood pressure checked, to know their state of health given that it is not easy to raise autistic children.

The centre’s administrator, Mrs. Mildred Abimbola, described autism as a neurological challenge, while shedding light on the significance of the World Autism Day.

“This is an occasion for children with autism, a form of neurological challenge that has to do with the brain. Autistic children are wonderful children because they are a kind of routine people- very organised and they help you get organised working with them. So what we are doing here today is bringing professionals or specialists who are able to assess them and see how we can make their lives better,” Abimbola said.

She said when the centre determines that a child can cope academically after the assessment, it will now structure an Individualised Vocational Plan (IVP) for such child.

However, if a child is academically limited, the centre will rather focus the child to a vocational skill it assesses to be a relevant skill he can cope with.

“Most time our expectation here is not just to keep them for years but is about what we are to get from the child; how balanced is the child going to be. We want after now to produce doctors; we want to produce tailors, we want to produce people that will be self-reliant. What happens to people with special need is that employment is poor, most time they are not employed because employers feel the children are of no use. We want a situation where after this screening they can stand anywhere and be self-dependent,” she said.

Abimbola decried the low attention given to individuals with autism particularly in the regular schools. She said for autistic children to be impacted with the knowledge they are supposed to acquire, they need thorough teaching, therapy and attention that can only be impacted on one and one basis.

“That is what we are giving them here. Children with autism are also very intelligent. When they get something, it sticks. They are very good in computers, but how can you teach them these computers to make them very good when you don’t have a thorough time with them? And that is our mission here, because in Nigeria, hardly will you, especially in the government schools, see them give children with autism the attention they deserve,” Abimbola said.

Mr. Kayode Omidire is one of the parents offered free counselling and therapy on the World Autism Day by Ize Centre. His six-year-old son is afflicted with the neurological stress.

He admitted that coping with a child with autism is no mean task, stressing the condition can be a burden on parents.

“After we observed something unusual when the boy was about six months old, we decided to bring him to our parents in Lagos. The elders later confirmed our worst fear when they noted the abnormality in his growth. It was after we returned to Abuja that the stress started. Initially, as a man, I tried to cope, but the effect suppressed my wife because it is not easy to take care of the boy. He is so strong you know; she will be in better position to explain it, but it has not been an easy journey. We thank God the boy is going to six years now and we have been praying that one day we will overcome this challenge,” Omidire said in a somewhat subdued tone.

He added that his son had been on therapy ever since he was found with the ailment as a toddler.

“I know what it took me, but the boy has improved with therapy. Though people will not notice that because when we see doctors, they admit that the signs may not be significant, but at least, he is improving. We have been on the therapy for six months and have not stopped even though at a time, when I was a bit hampered financially, some people supported me to come for the therapy. So further therapy I believe will help the boy.”

Abimbola, who specialises in managing psychiatric patients, listed the signs parents should look out for when they give birth to know the status of children. She noted that it is not all doctors that are informed about autism and can actually detect it at the early stage.

“For every child we have milestones-at two months, what is the child supposed to be doing; at three months, what is the child supposed to be doing. When you observe abnormality, may be a child is supposed to be sitting at a particular time, but he is not sitting, you need to speak out. We have a general milestone that every child supposed to make, when you don’t see that, you speak up, because doctors sometimes guess, you meet a social worker or a counsellor that can link you with a therapist that can actually assist you. We also advise that most times, don’t pick a therapist on the roadside. Visit a very organised centre and make your complaint. Go through your counseling, then you have that situation taken care of. That is why it is called a special centre, where you have all those professionals to work with those children.”

A clinical psychologist, Samuel Jinadu described autistic disorder as people who have attention deficit and conduct and behavioural disorder. He said clinical psychologists determine at what age to identify people with special needs and start picking every signs.

“If we are able to pick sounds early, we will be able to intervene faster. That is when the child can make significant progress. Again people with special needs, sometimes, the way they develop, is different from the way other peoples’ brain develops. They have a way of saying the word that we don’t or we may not understand except we are trained. So we look at all those things, plus the implications of special needs for the sibling of that child that has special needs,” Jinadu said.

As the world marked World Autistic Day, the National Integrity Officer, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Dr. Christian Emeruwa, has attributed the problem in handling autistic disorder in Nigeria to lack of capacity for early detection of the disorder.

Emeruwa, a onetime national sports manager, Special Olympics Nigeria, said that if parents are able to detect that their children are autistic in nature and ensure that they are enrolled in special schools, they would transfer early enough some self-help skills that would eventually help these children in managing themselves in the future.

He reckoned that most children with this disability are not in school because of the learning disability which comes along with it, while most of them are also not from very good background that will enable their parents to easily want to take them for further medical checks to confirm their true status and state.

“All this put together tend to portray a child with autism as a child that is incomplete and people try to deal with them with disdain and as the normal way of life. I know for sure that there is no cure for autism but there are some behavioural adaptations that can be inculcated into the child through introduction of special schools training. And you also lessen their pressure when you engage them in sports,” Emeruwa said.

Emeruwa faulted the Nigerian educational system for not doing enough to accommodate autistic people. He described the development as a huge surprise as autistic children constitute a large chunk of the society.

“How many states have special schools in their states? Are we saying those states do not have people with autism, down syndrome or what have you? We know the conventional schools are not good enough, so all we are saying is we should have special schools, where these children can also be exposed to certain level of education. They need special care and to get it, they need specially trained teachers in specially conditioned environment that will enable them to function.”