The Federal Capital Territory Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello has visited children with special needs in Abuja to raise autism awareness in the territory.
Bello visited the Brain Bloom Centre, Apo, Abuja, which is a centre dedicated to the care of children with special needs as part of autism awareness campaign.
According to WebMD “People with autism have trouble with communication. They have trouble understanding what other people think and feel. This makes it hard for them to express themselves, either with words or through gestures, facial expressions, and touch.”
The Centre’s founder and Managing Director, Mrs. Rahanatu Yusuf, had invited the minister as part of activities to mark Autism Awareness Month held from the 1st to 30th of April every year to visit the school to render necessary support.
However, after the tour of the facilities at the Centre, the minister while spoke on the imperative of creating awareness about the disorder, even as he pledged continued support of the FCT Administration to improve the well-being of persons with autism and other neurological disorders to enable them live normal lives.
He said, “We feel highly delighted to have come here and I share with what you are doing because autism is reality actually. It’s probably just recently that we know autism as a name. Sometimes, you get to know it rather early, and sometimes, you don’t know about it till it’s very late. I encourage you not to lose hope. Let us just keep on pushing.
“I will continue to give you publicity, and from time to time, I encourage you to do some activities. You don’t need to make it only an annual event during the autism month. If there is any need for support, you can contact my office and we will see what we can do.
“I am very happy that you created a forum where parents of autistic students can come and share ideas because we realize in life that anything that happens has happened before. So, sometimes, if you share ideas, you will be able to achieve the aim of finding solutions to any challenge.
“I assure you that the FCT Administration will give you all the needed support. You can rest assured that I am going to be a very passionate advocate of what you do.”
Bello while noting the need for an inclusive environment, revealed that the FCT Administration was working on making public buildings correspond with the Disability Act recently signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, to catre for persons with disabilities and other special needs.
He added that this, coupled with the planned installation of lifts at the rail stations, would provide easy access and movement to persons with disabilities in these facilities.
Yusuf, while giving a welcome remark, solicited greater understanding, patience, and acceptability of autistic persons to build a much more inclusive world that protects the rights of all children, particularly those with neuro-diversity.
She called on governments at all levels and citizens not to forget the vulnerable populations and implement the Disability Act, and establish proper diagnostic centres.
Yusuf said, “We want to make autism awareness more center stage and topic of conversation which is why we are bringing this to the attention of the Honourable Minister who has the capacity to make impactful policies to achieve this herculean feat.”
She pointed out that though symptoms of autism may be similar to other neurological disorders, children with autism are different.
“They all have different clusters because autism hardly exists on its own. There is usually comorbidity along with it.
“Some of them have attention hyperactivity disorder -very short attention span. They cannot focus on one activity for more than five minutes. Some have anxiety issues. They get scared when they want to try something new.
“Some even have dietary issues and cannot deal with certain kinds of food. Some of them have epilepsy, some of them have seizures because they are all related to the brain.”
Yusuf, whose 14 year old son had a slow start, called on well-meaning Nigerians and corporate bodies to come to the aid of the children, noting that the Centre is small and needs to be expanded, and new ones established across the FCT in areas easily accessible to the needy.
Yusuf’s partner and childhood friend, Mrs. Olayinka Afolayan, a Computer Scientist by profession and special needs children advocate, stressed the need for acceptance by society.
Afolayan lamented that society tends to stigmatize anything it does not understand, calling for more awareness to reduce stigma and increase the possibility of early detection and care.
Narrating her experience when she was told to seek help to get more male children after she had her second female child, stated that such a stereotype causes more harm than good in relation to Special Needs Children as early detection was key to resolving most issues surrounding caring for the children.
Some parents of autistic children narrated their ordeals, ranging from lack of diagnostic centres for neurological disorders, and financial strain to physical and mental stress.