“Be at least as interested in what goes on inside you as what happens outside. If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place.” – Eckhart Tolle

Anyone who meets the delectable Dotun Akande (Mrs) cannot help but notice her confidence and calm mien. A personal challenge that could tear some families apart and make other detest their children is the same one that prompted this mother into starting a centre that has brought hope and progress to parents of children living with autism.

For Mrs Dotun Akande, she believes that children living with autismare like tender plants that only need a special type of nurturing to bloom. Her story is one that shows that our experiences have a way of stirring up purpose and birthing solutions to the challenges of others.

The birth of her son was the foundation for this hope-giving centre. In 1998, Mrs Dotun travelled out of the country to give birth to her baby but had a traumatic 18-hour labour. It was an experience that made her wish for death. The pain was so excruciating that she asked for an epidural but was denied as it was too late to go for that option. She stayed in the hospital afterwards to ensure that all was well with her child and left after getting a clean bill of health.

She did not notice anything unusual until she watched her son struggle with his use of words at age 1. In the bid to find out what could be wrong with her son, she met a doctor who had experience with children living with autism. The doctor advised her to travel abroad to get the help and intervention she needed for her child. She was unable to do this and tried to get her hands on Nigerian materials that addressed autism. After facing great frustration, she realized that Nigerians had little knowledge about what autism was. She read up on it and struggled to do what she could until she eventually got a speech therapist for her son.  It was a trying period for her as she did all this as a full-time banker.

After doing some form of intervention that was available for her son, she thought about how a lot of Nigerian parents were going through the same challenge without support or knowledge of how to manage it. One day, she sat in the bathroom and thought about how she could make a difference. That was when it entered into her heart to start a learning centre for children living with autism. She discussed this dream with her speech therapist who promised to support her. Her husband believed in her and took it upon himself to draft the business plan. He also advised her to travel abroad and equip herself for the great task ahead.

Enthusiastic about what her dream could do for others, Mrs Akande enrolled at the National Autism Society in the UK where she received training andgot the knowledge required to set up the centre. After the training ended, she visited other centres to observe and work with children living with autism. Upon her return, she wrote articles to sensitize the public about autism and how to handle it.As expected, the issue of funding came up,and she wrote to different banks seeking help to support the golden dream. Fortunately, Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) took up the challenge and gave her all the help she needed.

The centre opened its door in 2006 and started with three children. Currently, itcan cater to 48 children at once. The centre works with these children in conjunction with trained professionals who teach these children how to be the best. After a stipulated period, these children are allowed to join mainstream schools where they can do great things.New intakes come on board,and the success story gets better with every set.

The main challenge of parents with children living with autismis the stigma of having special children or the fear that the children will never improve.A lot of parents complain about how their children are treated unfairly because they are different. The Patrick’s centre has come in to bridge this gap and help the children become useful to themselves and the society at large. Every month, the centre partners with foundations and NGOs to set up new initiatives and programs that teach parents patience, faith, hope and tolerance for the weight they have come to carry.

The centre has become a beacon of hope and is gradually changing the effect of autism, one child at a time.