NO fewer than 1.2 million Nigerian children suffer Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a complex pervasive developmental disorder, still largely unknown in the country.

A team of experts from the United States (U.S.) said this at the weekend, in the light of global estimate that says prevalence rate is one in every 150 children worldwide.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates, relates with people around them and has difficulties with everyday social interaction.

Appearing in the first three years of life, experts said ASD causes disruption in the normal process of brain development and functionality. No one specific cause of ASD is yet known.

Speaking at the two-day Autism Spectrum Disorders Seminar organised by Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) in Lagos, Executive Director of Blazing Trails International Centre (BTIC) Autism Symposium Co-Developer, Dr. Anna Lamikanra, observed that there is severe lack of awareness and misconception about the ASD children.

This ultimately makes it difficult for these children to be integrated into the larger society, mostly as a result of social stigmatisation by family, friends and larger society.

She said: “These disorders, which are largely misunderstood by society, make it difficult for affected children to cope with the everyday demand of their environment and may lead to varying stages of social stigmatisation.

“An autistic child is not an imbecile neither is he or she just been naughty. It is not specific to any class, gender, race, religion or ethnic group, nor does it result from wrong parenting or lifestyle.”

Lamikanra noted that autism occurs more in males than females at a ratio of 4:1, accounting for about 11 per cent of global disease and is projected to reach 14.7 per cent by 2020, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Approximately, 67 million people worldwide are affected by autism, yet the condition is far from hopeless. “Autistic children have been known to become geniuses as adults with proper care, love and support.”

Apparently in agreement with Lamikanra, Dean, School of Applied Science, Thomas Edison State College, Trenton, New Jersey, Dr. Marcus Tillery, said that there is so much that can be done to bring the best out autistic children, using low to high contact and engagement techniques.

“It is all about engagement, to bring out the intelligence in them. We all must keep hope alive, say no to discrimination and stigmatisation of autistic children.”

The prevailing lack of societal awareness about these disorders in Nigeria and non-existence of training facilities for affected children influenced GTB to become an advocate for children living with developmental disabilities in 2006.

GTB Executive Director, Titi Osuntoki, said that the programme on ASD under the auspices of the Orange Ribbon initiative for children with special needs, is the culmination of years of working tirelessly towards promoting the cause of a much-neglected children, living with developmental disabilities.

“We have heard stories of people, who despite having this condition, have gone to become leaders in their various fields. We have also seen children with this conditions, rise above their perceived disabilities to become change agents in the society because they had access to proper facilities and care.”

She added that children with special needs deserve a chance to perform at their optimum and “we owe them that responsibility to provide equitable opportunities and support.”

Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, commended the GTB initiative and reiterated the Lagos State government’s support and collaborative initiative for the affected children.

He identified that the Lagos State, on its part, has established six maternal and childcare centres as part of the first phase of providing care for mothers and children.

Credit to General NBF Topics Nigeria

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