The pain that disturbed the heart of some parents is finally lightened as centers offer therapy to help children with the seemingly hopeless neuron-biological disorder–Autism, live a fulfilled life.
The smile the students of ‘Patrick’s Speech and Language Center’ wore yesterday, Monday, 2nd July 2012, as they were guided about their different activities one by one, could cause tears of joy and relief from the eyes of any observer. Oh! These children can have a life. They can even become world legends if guided properly irrespective of their disorder. Autism is not their death sentence, it is only a mirage attached to the story of who they are.
Ignorance of the term ‘Autism’ has kept many children traumatized and subjected to inhuman treatments by parents, guardians, and the society that ought to show them love. Many have termed them psychotic or mad, while others believe that these autistic children are influenced or possessed by demons. Their families are stigmatized and their parents are ashamed of them. Sometimes, they are left to languish until death locates them. Generally, our society has no place for them though over one million people in Nigeria have autism. Yet the term ‘Autism’ is still unheard by most Nigerians.
Autism is a neural development disorder that affects information processing in the brain and delays cognitive development and language. The exact cause is yet unclear, but it has strong genetic basics — rare mutations by rare combinations of common genetic variants. There are also proposed controversial environmental causes such as heavy metals, pesticides, or childhood vaccines, but these lack scientific evidence. Autism is also believed to be a result of biological imbalance that affects the adequate development of the brain.
Meanwhile, Autism is characterized by difficulty in social interactions, impaired communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviour. Symptoms usually begin after the age of six months. Then progressively become pronounced and established by age two to three years and could continue throughout Adulthood. The child may exhibit symptoms by tapping, spinning, or holding unto an object in a particular manner or waving it. Sometimes, shutting of eyes to light or ears to sounds to show sensitivity to the stimulus could be observed. Also, facial expressions, hyperactivity, aggression, destruction of properties and tantrums are common. Other aspects include typical eating and resistance to change. No single symptom shows the disorder, but a combination of a triad (i.e. impaired social interaction, communication, and restricted interests) or more is a criterion for diagnosis.
Imagine a thirteen-year-old boy who hardly feeds himself without messing up the floor. Imagine a seven-year-old child who has monosyllabic or bi-syllabic expressions initially, then regressively goes mute and can hardly say a word, plays alone, or remains always withdrawn. Imagine a teenager who laughs, cries for no reason and urinates on his body when he is fully awake, and flaps his fingers in a consistent manner. Imagine a toddler who uses less contact, takes turns, and could not as much as point at an object to declare an interest or a child who routinely arranges his toys in a particular manner daily and gets aggressive or agitated when his routine is interrupted. All these speak volumes about the disorder.
Nevertheless, autism symptoms help to categorize individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD is a subset of the broader autism phenotype which describes individuals with autism-like traits. A comprehensive test of individuals by a multi-disciplinary team is required before a diagnosis is given and treatments commenced. The team is usually made up of a family program coordinator; clinical psychologists; speech and communication specialists; occupational therapists; pediatricians; behaviour modification therapists; child psychiatrists and a neurologist. A proper diagnosis is necessary for therapy.
However, there is hope for normal living for autistic people! Centers like Patrick’s Speech and Language Center in Ikeja GRA Lagos, Nigeria, have established working therapy for children, hope, and relief for the parents, and indeed are giving their students’ lives meaning. They use speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioural therapy, music therapy as well as a dietary intervention to maximize potentials of their students. According to the proprietress of the Patrick Center, Mrs. Adedokun Akande, “diet goes a long way…they (autistic children) have leaky guts (holes in the intestines).” According to her, “…the right diet can heal the holes.” This helps the biological aspect to heal.
Above all, the great news is that research has shown that almost half of the children that get early intervention make a dramatic change and some even recover! With therapy, autistic individuals’ potentials are maximized and they can get jobs as pianists or artists. Some can be employed to stack things in supermarkets or arrange things on shelves or in boxes. Some teenage students of Patrick’s Center in an interview, declared that they can cut wood and nail it, ‘do thread”(sewing), and play the piano very well respectively. They are making their lives beautiful and their future hopeful!
Finally, spread the news, Autism is not a death sentence or a sorrow zone, there is hope! There is a future! All it requires is love and patience. Autism affects a person but does not define them! “There is a miracle in every child,” Mrs. Akande says,” including a child with Autism.”