Today marks the annual World Autism Awareness Day, a day set aside to highlight the need to improve the lives of people with Autism. The United Nations General Assembly reached a unanimous resolution on December 18th, 2007 to dedicate every 2nd of April to creating worldwide awareness on Autism. Its concern arose out of the high prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in all countries of the world and the subsequent effects on children, families, communities and societies.
World Health Organization statistics reveal that one in every 88 children in the United States of America have Autism while worldwide, one in every 100 children are affected with Autism. Boys outnumber girls in a ration of 5-to-1. Autism, the fastest growing developmental disability is now an urgent international health and educational issue. It is a disability that interferes with the normal development of the brain resulting in impaired speech, language, communication, play and social skills
WOW D.I.V.A.S (Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed Sisters), a network of women connected by a common goal is one of the few organizations in Nigeria championing the cause of creating awareness on Autism. In a release published on some national newspapers today, the organization gives an insight into the condition known as Autism.
“Autism is a developmental disorder that some people are born with – it is not something you can catch or pass along to someone else. Autism affects the brain and makes communicating and interacting with other people difficult.”
The cause of Autism is still a mystery to researchers and medical practitioners and a cure is not on the horizon. And since there is no cure for the condition, early detection and intervention are the best ways of dealing with the condition.
“Time is of the essence. Early Intervention treatments should start as soon as possible. Studies have shown that children who start treatment therapies between the age of 2-4 have the opportunity to achieve a very high level of improvement, such that despite all the day-to-day hurdles, many end up leading fulfilling, happy lives on their own. With early intervention therapies, some can attend regular school classes with everyone else. Some go on to vocational school or regular Universities, get jobs, get married, and have successful careers.
Consider Ms. Temple Grandin, for example. Despite having Autism, she earned a PhD and became a college professor and expert in animal behavior. She’s written several books, including one about her experience called ‘Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports From My Life With Autism’. Although she still struggles with the disorder almost daily, she leads a normal life, just like many other people with Autism.”
The level of awareness about Autism is pathetically low in Nigeria. In a paper written by Dr Okey-Martins Nwokolo, a psychologist, he highlighted some of the problems that hinder the progress of children with Autism in Nigeria.
“The legal framework necessary to support individuals with autism is another deficient area. The trend in most parts of the world is that ‘no child should be left behind’, that every disabled child matters, and that there should be free basic education for all. However, here there is no recognition of autism as a disability, and there are next to no services available to meet the needs of those with the condition. Currently, the government has not accepted autism as a disability needing special attention, and it has not recognized the rising cases of ASD. Even the federal ministry of education does not categorise autism as a distinct disability, despite the fact that the condition is currently reputed to be the third most common childhood disorder and the fastest growing developmental disability. Many of the so-called ‘mad’ people on Nigerian streets are autism sufferers who were neither diagnosed nor treated. Yet they could have been treated. They could have been our Temple Grandin, Tony DeBlois or Ping Lian (of Malaysia)”
As we mark another World Autism Awareness day, it is time to call on the government to take appropriate action. Autism is not a condition caused by witchcraft or any fault of the mother during pregnancy. Children with autism find communication difficult, they find it hard to express themselves and should be treated with extra patience.
We have a moral obligation to support and embrace those in the society who are the most vulnerable. Let’s show love to people living with Autism.