Interview with Josephine Igbinovia of Sunday Vanguard

Dr. (Mrs.) Dotun Akande, the Founder/Proprietress of PSLC tells Josephine Igbinovia of Sunday Vanguard on Vista Woman that Autism is not a lifelong disorder
Some excerpts of Interview with Sunday Vanguard, September 26, 2010

The Journey so far
We are five years old this year, and we are really grateful to corporate organizations and foundations that have really been helpful to us. GTB is one of them. With the help of these donors, we were able to invite Lagos State primary school educators to come for our training for free.

We were able to invite six special schools, health workers, etc., for free. We believe that it would be helpful for them to be knowledgeable on how to manage children with speech and language delay, like we find in children with autism. I am also grateful to God because we are coping. Last session, we were able to send four children to regular schools.

However, I want to point out that most of the children we have sent to regular schools overtime are children that came here early. That is why we keep resounding that early intervention is the key. We also have some children, who though are doing fine, have not yet reached the level where they will be able to cope in a regular school.

About autism
Autism is a complex neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain. It appears in the first three years of the life of a child, and its actual cause is unknown. There still is not any new discovery on autism. So what we do to enable us help children with autism is that we examine the child to know the right therapy that will help. Autism is not a lifelong disorder. It is just a challenge in a developmental stage. Children with autism learn a little bit slower than normal children, but they learn. Let us forget about the stage at which they learn, the fact is that they learn. These children cannot live a dependent life for the rest of their lives if intervention is started early. I always tell parents not to wait until they start throwing chairs before they start seeking help. If that child had been brought for intervention before that stage, we would have done behavioural therapy for him or her. Then if he child is still not able to attain speech and communication. We look for alternative ways of helping. This we can do through pictures and signs. Most people are running away from signs, but the truth is that there is nothing wrong with it. If that is the child own way of learning how to communicate, so be it. We all have different ways of doing things.

How parents can help children develop speech
A lot of parents who bring their children panic a lot when they notice that their children are not developing speech, and most times, these children develop speech without even having to spend up to two months at our centre. Hence, I will like to use this avenue to let parents know how they can help their babies develop speech. There are some exercises that can help a child’s speech. An example of this is blowing. If a child blows bubbles early, it helps to shape the mouth of the child. Other exercise that help in speech and language development are blowing of balloons, sipping with the straw, licking, sucking (even the breast) etc. Pregnant mothers can help their children overcome speech below even before they are born. This they can do by rubbing their stomach with their palms and singing to the unborn baby.

Appeal to government
There are so many children out there suffering from autism, but whose parents cannot afford to enroll them in a special school. Many of these children may end up dependent for life if nothing is done to help them, and that is why I am calling on government to come in to help in the fight against autism. They said that they have special units in public schools, but the question is ‘How many pupils to a teacher?’ Helping children with special needs is not just capital intensive but human capital intensive. The move is a welcomed development, but I would implore the government to get more hands because teaching children with special needs requires one teacher to one pupil.