Nigeria: Advancing Autism Awareness Drive Through Orange Ribbon Initiative

(file photo)
2 April 2020

The World Autism Awareness Day is an internationally recognised day by the United Nations in order to encourage member countries to take measures about people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) throughout the world.

The day, which began in 2008, draws special attention to people with special needs that should be managed by others.

Over the years, there have been various themes that have sought to highlight the needs and propose ways of addressing the challenges faced by autistic people, their families and immediate environment.

Some of the themes that has been discussed include, "Employment: The Autism Advantage" in 2015; "Autism and the 2030 Agenda: Inclusion and Neurodiversity" in 2016; "Toward Autonomy and Self-Determination" in 2017; "Empowering Women and Girls with Autism" in 2018 and "Assistive Technologies, Active Participation" in 2019.

According to the UN, the 2020 theme is "The Transition to Adulthood". As expected, adulthood is typically equated with becoming a full and equal participant in social, economic and political life of one's community.

However, the transition to adulthood remains a fundamental challenge for anyone with autism majorly because of the lack of opportunities and support devoted to this phase of life.

According to the World Health Organisation, one in 160 children live with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) worldwide.

Further statistics shows that there are 135 million established cases of autism globally, with more than one million children and teenagers suffering from the condition in Nigeria.

Although there are no specific statistics for Nigeria because the condition is hardly diagnosed and rarely understood, people living with this condition lack medical and psycho-social help.

Despite the rising number of sufferers, autism is one of the most ignored health issues in the country as there is low awareness to early diagnosis and management of the cognitive disorder in Nigeria.

Unfortunately, many children suffer great health loss, and denied right to basic needs. Some are isolated by their families due to the shame of having a child with intellectual/cognitive disability, while some suffer from the menace of cultural beliefs, superstitions and myths as they are being called various names.

All of these show that more work needs to be done to identify children with autism at an early age, refer them to early intervention and create adequate help for them. Research has shown that there is practically no cure for autism but studies are constantly going on to examine causes and create proper treatments.

For some autistic children, administering certain medications and behavioral health patterns can improve the condition and enable them to be self-reliant as they approach adulthood.

Every year, thousands of children in Nigeria are born with autism and other developmental disorders that affect their abilities to learn and build social skills.

Most of these children do not get the adequate medical, social and academic support that they require and when they grow up, they are often faced with little or no employment or vocational opportunities to build their own lives.

To help rescue this situation, one of Africa's financial institution, Guaranty Trust Bank has Since 2009 been at the forefront of leading an annual discourse on the management and care of persons with the Autism Spectrum Disorder through her GTBank's Orange Ribbon Initiative.

The initiative is an advocacy programme designed to support children with developmental disabilities, most especially ASD. It seeks to ensure that these children are not stigmatised and that they receive the required support from parents, teachers, friends, government and the society.

The initiative started with the gathering of a small group of people with similar interest in seminars and talks aimed at improving awareness and management of ASD, which has now grown to become a conference which is annually well attended by parents, professionals and care-givers and viewed through several channels across the globe.

Usually designed as a two to three days programme coordinated by world leading experts in the management of ASD, the conference is comprised of critical discourse on topics relating to the support of children and adults living with Autism.

The conference also has sessions for free one-on-one consultations for children with Autism and other developmental challenges as well as counseling for parents and guardians.

Some of the other sessions held during the annual conference are seek to address challenges relating to Speech Therapy, Physical Therapy, Behaviour Analysis, Audiology, Clinical Psychology, Developmental Psychiatry, Physiotherapy and Occupational therapy.

Speaking about the bank's Orange Ribbon Initiative, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of GTB, Segun Agbaje said: "With autism being reported constantly, it is crucial that we continue to educate people around us, we will promote awareness and acceptance of individuals with autism. As a bank, we are delighted to be a part of this great initiative and it gives us so much joy that we can impact our society and enlighten people on the need to create more enabling environments for kids living with autism.

"People with autism have their own aspirations, dreams and God-given potential, just like any other person; they just require a little more support to live fulfilling lives, we strongly believe that reaching out and supporting these children and adults who are often the most vulnerable in our society, is how we truly demonstrate our shared humanity," he said.

He added that the bank will continue to be a voice for people living with autism by constantly investing in initiatives that help them lead better lives and by partnering with like minds at home and around the world who share in our belief in a world full of support and attention and free from stigma and prejudice, against people with special needs.

GTB, through its corporate social responsibility, champions education for all, empowers underserved people and communities, expands access to healthcare, promotes art and advocate for environmental protection.

The bank undertakes hundreds of community development projects every year across Nigeria and beyond to expand opportunities for individuals and families in the communities where it operates.

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