Eniola Lahanmi had her first degree in Psychology from Rochester Institute of Technology, New York, United state. She is currently a speech and language therapist in Patrick Speech and Language centre, Ikeja Lagos. After her degree, she went to Boston and took a course in Applied Behaviour Analysis which was a kind of intervention and treatment for children with autism.

This means that I’m qualified for what I’m doing presently. To be candid, my intention is to study Medicine in the United States, and for you to do that, you must have to do a first degree in pre-medicine. So, I chose psychology with a clinical track as my pre-medicine. And in my school, you have to do one year work experience and so I did mine at the centre for children with Autism and I found it really interesting’ she recalled.

What really fascinates her about her job? “Well, I found the whole condition of autism quite intriguing because coming from Nigeria, it is not something I was familiar with. It is a sort of disorder for children. Sometimes when you look at them, nothing seems to be wrong with them physically but all the same there is something that is making them not to act the way they should. I found that fascinating because I have always been fascinated by the way the brain works and I have researched about brain. So, I see that as an interesting condition.

“When I saw that it’s not a write-off, that there is actually something that can be done to elleviate their condition in terms of improving their behaviour and bringing out their potentials. I said okay this is like medicine and it’s even more interesting. Lahanmi unveils her experience so far as a speech and language therapist in Patrick Speech and Languages Centre, Ikeja.

At first, I came back to Nigeria in 2010 having worked in autism centre in the U.S. When I came here, I noticed that there are lots of challenges. First and foremost, we don’t have enough professionals and what this means is that a lot of children don’t get picked up quite early. As opposed to other developed nations, where they have health check that they do and once they have symptoms of that, they are picked by professionals and they can start to get help early. But here, it is not like that. Here people see autism as a spiritual problem, a mental disorder where there is no hope. But I thank God that a lot of people now have started having awareness. Many centres are being opened up here and there to let people know more about autism and that they are ready to render help. But another major lapse is that because of our society people with such children are hidden from help. The country has over 150 million people, meaning that there are so many people with such condition but its either they don’t know there are centres for such children or they tend to live far away from the centre. And when they are aware of such centres, most often they can’t afford it, she explained.

Another challenge is that it is not a field that people tend to go into nowadays. The core doctors go into general medicine and all of that. So, we don’t have enough professionals, which is of course a challenge. But anyway, it’s quite exciting that I am in the forefront of people that help autistic children and getting things done, she stated. But as a married woman, has she ever feared that her own kids might be like the children she is taking care of?

A lot of people would say ‘oh this work you are doing, be careful’. But that doesn’t get me scared. I have always had a sort of practical mind. I am a Christian, a person who doesn’t look at things from spiritual perspectives. It’s just like saying that someone who is working in a clinic or in a normal hospital that is treating malaria patients would have malaria or that her kids would have malaria. People think autism is something you can catch or the devil can give you but it is not like that, she said.

What thrills her most about her job is seeing positive difference or tremendous change in an autistic child makes my day. I mean a child who couldn’t look at you before or answer you when you call her now begins to answer and then getting the parents to appreciate that change, thrills me a lot,  she emphasized.

“It doesn’t upset me or make me annoyed but we are all human and there are some things we all find disgusting. A lot of children exhibit different behaviours, we have some who would excrete and they want to smear it on you. That is disgusting. We are all human beings and we find that disgusting but at the same time, what makes it different is that you know that the child does not deliberately want to disgust you. I look at such a child or children as people that need help’, Lahanmi said.