Daniel Okoli is a handsome, enterprising and loveable child, whose ability to paint and draw is unique and eye-catching. His brilliant qualities were once threatened by a neurodevelopmental disorder known as Autism. Persons living with Autism are not able to learn simple things like communication, socializing and every day normal things. In a chat with Patrick Special and Languages Centre, Daniel’s mum, Mrs. Olufunke Okoli, a Civil Servant with the Lagos State Government shares her experience.

Q: How did you detect Autism in your child?

I didn’t actually know anything about Autism until 2008 when I visited a friend with my child, because while he was growing up his father and I assumed he had a delay in talking and was going to speak as time went by.  Though, he exhibited some characters, we assumed that they could be attributed to that of a growing child. Until my friend, who had an in depth knowledge of the disorder, suggested that he is on the spectrum, insinuating that he probably had traces of Autism. That was the first time ever that I heard of Autism. We went to the hospital and the Doctors assessed him before we were subsequently referred to Patrick Speech and Language Centre. Since I brought him here, I have learnt that Autism is a challenge that children are born with because there is really no known cause for it yet. A  It’s a challenge that needs proper scrutiny because you cannot detect until the child is old enough to start school and he can’t talk, interact, he is violent and several other traits he will exhibit. A  In my case that was how I got to know about what Autism was.

Q: Are you confident that Daniel can pursue a professional career?

Yes, very well.  I thank God for Patrick.  If not for their help I never thought he could pursue a career in life, because his nature of challenge was different, apart from being Autistic he was also hyperactive and sometimes aggressive.  Some children exhibit self injurious behaviours and destroy things in their environment. Though, he was not destructive he was violent, because he could not speak, he tried to express himself through aggression. He threw things; beat his peers, shout, scream and all that was his own way of expression.  When he got here is strength was redirected.  Daniel now speaks, plays and relates with everyone normally.  He has started a regular school and he’s doing very fine.  I don’t really know what they do at Patrick, but they sure have the professional edge to help kids with Autism and give them a future.

Q:  How do you suggest that Information level on Autism can be improved upon?

Actually, the information level on Autism is very poor and below par.  For example, where I reside, I have seen children exhibiting traits of Autism and because of insufficient information their parents cannot tell what is really wrong with the child, others lack the fund required to help their children.  From my experience, I can tell if a child has Autism but that cannot be adequate information.  There’s need for government involvement in Autism.  Government channel funds into helping children who are blind, deaf and dumb. They also help children with other disabilities; I don’t think Autism is any different.

Q:  Do you think the Doctors should take blame for their inability to detect Autism early, after these children are taken for numerous tests?

It’s not really the doctors’ fault.  I don’t think it’s easy for medical practitioners to detect.  They always try their best but it’s not easy.  There are no definite symptoms for Autism, if they could detect easily, I’m sure they would have at birth.  Children with Autism do not have medical problems, like the common sickness and disease we know.  My child was taken to the hospital several times and the doctors posited that perhaps he had a hearing problem or it was just tongue-tie.  I don’t know if all doctors are enlightened about Autism but I don’t think it’s their fault.  You know this has to do with the sensory organs disorder the doctors can only continue to educate themselves on issues like Autism.

Q:  How have you been able to cope with a child that has Autism, physically, emotionally, financially and other facets of life?

It was not easy at all.  I am a working mother, my husband works, I have two other children and no housemaid, but I decided I was going to face the task ahead of me courageously.  When we started we had to feed him a diet, though expensive, the food hardly had a taste.  For instance, my son likes sugar but had none of it because it would negate his diet and the whole family had to eat what he ate, it was really difficult especially for his sisters, who had to adjust to his diets.

Q:  It seems like showing love and affection is the therapy children with Autism need?

That is just it; you need to show a lot of love.  You must try to relate with their situation and understand them; because of their condition they are sometimes favourites of their parents their state of helplessness attracts a lot of emotional attachment.  While he was at Patrick, I was told not to show any kind of preference to him, he must be treated like the other kids.  It tried to treat him like the others, I spank him when he did anything wrong, I engaged him in domestic chores even though he gets it  wrong I give him the impression he’s done well, just like the other kids.

Q:  What advise do you have for parents whose kids have Autism?

They must show love to their children.  They must understand their child and not treat them differently.  They must send their children to centre like Patrick, irrespective of the cost because when I brought Daniel here I didn’t have the money but I had to do it.  Parents must be willing to help their children with all they have financially and spiritually.

Q:  Do you think they can channel their strength into technical schools?

Yes, I think not all of them can be professionals and because of their sensory organ disorder they tend to learn fast and thrive in technical disciplines like painting, carpentry, drawing and many others some even work in factories.  That way, they are responsible for themselves, the liability tag will be removed and they can earn a living for themselves.

Q: How do you think poor parents can cope with the burdensome funds?

If government can put money into partially blind and handicapped children, I think they should do the same for children with Autism; they also deserve to be funded by the government.  It’s true that not all parents can fund their children corporate bodies and government should help them.