By Becky John
The Federal Government on Wednesday cautioned Nigerians against linking autism in children to bewitchment or imbecility, rather than a developmental disorder.
The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Dr Ezekiel Oyeyemi, gave the advice at an Autism Awareness Programme in Abuja. The programme was organized by the U.S. Embassy in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and a coalition of Non-governmental Organisations.
Autism is a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.
“The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Women Affairs has thought it necessary to create awareness by letting all and sundry understand that Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) is all about.
“The Ministry is also charting a way forward by developing a robust and all inclusive roadmap that would enhance the realization of their aspirations.
“However, the starting point is to let the nation know that Autism Spectrum Disorders is neither a bewitchment of any sort nor is it imbecility; rather it is a developmental disorder.
“It is also important to know that with our collective care, persons living with ASDs can be assisted to achieve their maximum potential in life,” he said.
Oyeyemi quoted U.S. President Barack Obama as saying “young people with ASDs deserve our supports, our respects, and the opportunity to realize their highest aspirations”.
“Let us recommit to improving the lives of individuals and families impacted by ASDs and creating a world free from discrimination where all achieve their full potential,” Obama said.
In his remarks, the U.S. Ambassador James Entwistle said an estimated 200,000 to 380,000 people are affected annually in Nigeria by autism.
“In Nigeria, an estimated 200,000 to 380,000 people are affected by autism.
“Estimates are that autism is the third most common childhood disorder in Nigeria and is the fastest growing developmental disability,” he said.
Entwistle said one of the strongest partnerships between Nigeria and the U.S. Governments were on health care.
The U.S. envoy said the two countries were fighting malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and many childhood diseases together.
“Last year, we were proud to support Nigeria as it defeated Ebola. But there are many other health challenges that we can work together to address.
“Among them is the importance of building public awareness, finding policy solutions, and expanding medical and social treatment for autism,” he said.
The U.S. envoy said all persons, including those with autism, deserved to be treated with dignity and understanding.
He regretted that many parents of children with autism continued to struggle with the social stigma and burden of identifying treatment and caring for their loved ones. According to him, these obstacles increase the chances that the unique capabilities of those with autism will be lost to society. He commended the courageous efforts of Dr Yinka Akindayomi whose son was born autistic, for establishing the Children’s Development Centre in Lagos, catering for hundreds of persons living with autism.