‘Is your child down with autism? Don’t ignore him or her, there is a way out. No matter how old such a child is, bring him to my centre. All that he needs is help and he can be okay.’

‘Don’t think he will outgrow autism on his own without help. I heard such advice when my own child was diagnosed with autism, I refused to ignore him until he was okay’
– Dotun Akande , said recently in an interview.

Akande is the proprietress of Patrick speech and languages centre and pure souls learning foundation in the serene area of the ikeja GRA in Lagos. In her office is a plasma television adorning the wall beside her table where she views the whole premises of the centre, starting from the gate to the reception, classrooms, the staircase, kitchen, etc. she sits and oversees what goes on in all the classrooms.

Akande spoke about the centre with gusto. “We have been around for the past nine years and we work with children with autism and related developmental disabilities. Pure soul learning foundation is developed out of the fact that there are so many families that cannot pay for the service at the centre. so, through Pure soul learning Foundation, we have been able to give free services to families of autistic children in Nigeria”, she stressed.

Does her centre give scholarship to autistic children who can’t afford it? “Yes, we treat them free of charge. We look for opportunities where We can find funding to help families, if we cannot raise funds, we ask those that have helped us in the past to kind of give us materials that can help in bringing up these children. So it may not be necessarily monetary funds. It may be materials fund and sometimes human funds. Pure souls foundation has also been at the forefront of autism awareness. We have released three movies to educate people on what autism is all about. The three movies are titled ‘Emere‘, ‘The Maid‘ and ‘Silver Lining‘.

What we do is that we use volunteer actors. We use one known actor for it, For Silver Lining, we used Monalisa Chinda, for The Maid and for Emere we used Femi Bernard. Those are some of the things we have done recently. Through those movies, people are educated about the signs of autism. For instance ‘Silver Lining‘ is a long movie that lets parents know the signs of autism. ‘Emere‘ is a spiritual aspect of it that talks about the fact that when you find a child with autism, the first place to go is either to the church for deliverance. That was shown in Emere, where a lady took her autistic child from one church to the other and from one oracle to the other for cure. But eventually she was helped by a special centre where the child’s talent was brought up,  she said.

But can’t an autistic child outgrow it on his own? “There is nothing like that. You have to work at it. Whatever challenge that the child is facing at every point in time, you must try as much as possible to work on it. I remember when we first started in 2006.we were the first centre to open specifically for autism. There were other centres all over the place but we chose to concentrate on children with autism. I was passionate about it. My son was diagnosed with it and we worked with him. I heard from people who said just leave him, don’t worry, pray about it and he would be okay. I heard all that but I didn’t listen to them. I ran around, got help from everywhere I could. I did music therapy for him, self help skill by myself, after-school programme in a school and a whole lot for him until he was okay. When I realised that it was possible to help other children with a similar challenge, I decided to open this centre she explained

Akande first went for training. “Yes you cannot do this without being trained first. When I realized I wanted to go into it fully. I had to be trained at the National Autistic Society in the UK and they took me through a programme that would help me start. They put me through picture exchange programme, that is coaching me on how to teach them by using pictures. They taught me how to use sign language to communicate with them because there are many ways I can talk to them without using words. I can communicate with my eyes, depending on what I’m trying to say” she said.

To mothers with autistic children or who have babies with certain disabilities, she has some words. Mothers that have children with certain disabilities they don’t understand should first visit their pediatricians. If you are told to carry your child and go home, you should insist if you notice there is something wrong with him. Don’t go home and forget about it. You should keep going back, because there is what we call motherly instinct that tells you something is wrong with your child, even when you are told that all is well, do not give up on that child. There was an autistic person they brought here, for instance, when my staff saw him, they thought we won’t be able to accept him because he is 35 years old. When he came, I ran after his mother and asked her for an idea of what the chap had been through. She told me and I accepted him, promising to do my best. And he has started improving. Before, he couldn’t even put two piece puzzles together but now he can do it. When he is through, he gets up and helps other children. He didn’t go to school because he doesn’t have speech but he is catching up. We are teaching him now how to play the piano, carpentry and hand skills because we know he might never be able to read and write, but he may be able to function on his own. We are teaching him how to go to the supermarket and buy things, money and how to use it and other skills and his mother is very grateful that we decided to enroll him,  she said.

Akande enjoys her job with a passion. “I love what I’m doing, I love this job. The reason is that in every autistic child, there is strength within. Yes, everyday in their activities, you see the effort they put in trying to get better. In as much as we are trying to bring them up, we notice that sometimes when you give them some form of responsibility, you see them rise with confidence. So, I stay here every time and take care of them and I see God’s awesome miracle in them every day. It is beautiful to work with these children, she emphasized.

What thrills her most about what she does? The children’s progress thrills me most. A child comes to me and he is not talking, not writing and over time he begins to do all those things he couldn’t do. What thrills me most is seeing the children begin to progress”, she said.