Mrs. Dotun Akande tells Chinyere Fred Adegbulugbe some of the challenges she faces as a Parent of an Autistic Child

Excerpts of Interview with Punch of May 17, 2009

Have you had any personal experience with autism?
Yes, my second son was diagnosed of autism at 18 months and we just didn’t know what to do until he was about two when we met someone, a doctor who told us that he had autism. And that was the first time I ever heard of the word, autism.

What was your reaction?
Well, I will say I am a very active person so I immediately got into action. Yes, I had moments when I was down but really I wanted to know what step to take. She told me it was either I went to the United States or the United Kingdom or stayed back here. I told her I could’t afford to go to either US or the UK and then she told me what to do. She said that I should get him out of school one hour daily and do after school practice with him. I got him a piano teacher, I got him a lesson teacher and also a speech therapist; every minute of the day he was doing one thing or the order and that really helped.

How old is he now?
He is 11 years about to enter secondary school in September.

And how is he doing?
He is learning very well. They learn very well; they are very intelligent, only that you have to teach them to learn. They do learn but they take their time to learn. They are not like others who watch others and learn, no, you have to teach them that this is the way to do it and then they learn. They are practical learners.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a parent of an autistic child?
In Nigeria, it is mostly acceptance, accepting that my child has a challenge and I have to work with it. And then every day is a challenge because whatever challenge that child comes up with, you have to look for a way to teach that child a particular way of learning. The main challenge I have is teaching my child the social skills of life and how to understand jokes, because they don’t understand jokes. They don’t understand sarcasm so you have to teach them how to learn it. There was a particular parent who took his autistic son to church and the son was displaying an odd behaviour. The woman beside him said why did you bring this kind of son to church and he said, ‘He is my son, he has autism’. She replied that the boy did not belong to a place like that, and went ahead to suggest that the father should take him to a mental home. You can imagine how the man felt. And these are issues that others have to cope with especially when they are older.