People with autism spectrum disorder can excel – Experts
Some experts on Monday said there was need to give special care to people with developmental disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as they could excel in life.
The experts spoke at the 6th Annual Autism Conference organised by Guaranty Trust Bank PLC in Lagos on “Managing Autism: The Next Generation, Consideration and Resources.’’
They said that some persons with ASD usually excel in visual skills, music, math and art.
A website, www.autismspeaks.org, in describing ASD, says, “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development.
“These disorders are characterised, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviours.
“ ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances.’’
Mrs Dotun Akande, a behaviour analyst said at the conference that “Autism is the most severe developmental disability, appearing within the first three years of life.
“It involves impairments in social interaction such as being aware of other people’s feeling and verbal and non-verbal communication.
“Autism is a behavioural disorder which many in our society believe to be a spiritual attack.
“Some people with autism have limited interests; some also have strange eating and sleeping behaviours or a tendency to do things to hurt themselves.’’
Akande, who is also the founder of the Patrick Speech and Languages Centre, Lagos, said, “many families have taken this term to mean that there is no hope for their children living with autism.
“With our work with families, we have seen many of these children excel in different fields with little or no trace that they were ever on the spectrum.
“We also discover adults with late diagnosis display spectacular talents in the area of their interest and strength.
“This can be converted to meaningful employment in the community, thereby improving their quality of life.’’
Also speaking, Mr Segun Agbaje, Managing Director, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc (GTB), said there was an annual increase in the number of people with autism.
According to him, this is largely due to lack of awareness and diagnosis.
Agbaje said that the actual number of autism patients in Africa was still unknown, but estimated that no fewer than 500,000 children and adults were autistic in Nigeria.
He said there was need to create awareness for ASD and design programmes to empower them.
“Autism awareness is very important because it is a behavioural disorder which most people do not want to talk about.
“Autism patients are special people and that is the main reason we are interested in them, especially in Lagos and Abeokuta.
“We have decided to grow autism programme from children autism level to adult autism level because these set of people also have talents,’’ he said.
Agbaje said that GTB promised to create employment to autism patients because they were also important in the society.
In her presentation, Dr Elizabeth Campbell, a psychiatrist at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Idi-Araba, said statistics taken three decades ago indicated that 0.7per cent of the populace were living with autism.
She said that there was need for an updated survey as there had not been any large demographic survey till date.
Campbell said that the diagnosis for ASD was usually done by medical personnel.
According to her, diagnosis is now low because most of the health facilities are no longer accessible, affordable or acceptable by the citizenry.
On the management of autism, Campbell said that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had stipulated that community approach is best for chronic medical conditions to reduce neglect and violation of human rights.
She said that an organised and sustained support would be able to facilitate the provision of quality care for such marginalised group.