Everything you need to know about autism in Nigeria
The perfect story to sum up autism in Nigeria is the case of Unyime, who was three years old when she woke up one morning and appeared not to be able to speak or recognise her family. The girl’s mother, after prodding her for a long time, realised her little girl could no longer talk or understand anyone.
The hospital didn’t know what was wrong, so the family sought healing in prayer houses. It would take 20 years before Unyime would be diagnosed with POD-NOS, a severe form of autism.
Recently, there has been an increase in awareness of autism in Nigeria, but the level of awareness is still very low.
What is autism?
According to the National Autistic Society, Autism is a developmental ability that can affect how people understand the world around them. Autistic people perceive the world differently, which means they have their own unique way of seeing, hearing and feeling, compared to other people.
Autism is commonly called a hidden disability because it is not always possible to tell that someone has this condition by just looking at them. Most importantly, autism is a lifelong condition. There is no cure.
Attitudes towards Autism in Nigeria
In his 2007 article titled, ‘A Psychologist’s Perspective on the taboos of autism in Nigeria, Psychologist Okey-Martins Nwokolo had the following observations:
• Awareness about autism spectrum disorder is pitifully low even in the medical community
• Most health workers are not aware that there are many different kinds of autism
• Nigerians, both health workers and non-health workers alike, believe that autism is a white man’s disease and very rare in Nigeria
• After diagnosis, no one really knows how to handle cases of autism in Nigeria
• In the rural areas where there is little access to healthcare, autistic children often end up on the streets, branded insane and abandoned by their communities
• Parents with autistic children may hide them at home if they are rejected by special needs schools
• Families with autistic children are stigmatized and ostracized; some may even blame the mothers for the condition
• Exorcisms are not unheard of for children who are on the spectrum
How to create more awareness about autism in Nigeria
Awareness will go a long way towards recognizing the signs of autism. Also, it will help remove the stigma associated with the autism spectrum disorder.
Awareness needs to start from the basics like knowing:
- The signs of autism
- The treatment options for autism
- And how to support people living with this condition
Recognizing the signs of autism in Nigeria
The autism spectrum shows that the condition affects people in different ways. However, the NHS has pointed out that the most common signs of autism are
• Difficulties with social interactions and communication
Autistic people usually find it hard to make friends and or participate in conversations
• Repetitive routines, behaviour and activities
People on the spectrum may have daily routines that they won’t change. They may also have body movements they repeat over and over again.
• Sensory sensitivity
People with this condition may be sensitive to certain sounds, colours or lights.
Types of autism
Recently, psychologists have adopted the umbrella term autism spectrum disorder to cover the different types of autism. However, WebMD lists the types of autism include:
1. Asperger’s Syndrome
2. Autistic disorder
3. Childhood disintegrative disorder
4. Pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (POD-NOS)
- Asperger’s syndrome
Asperger’s is mild, compared to other types of autism. People with this syndrome can navigate their daily lives with very little to no difficulty. They are often very intelligent. Still, they may struggle in social settings.
- Autistic disorder
Autistic disorder is a more severe form of the condition. It is more intense than Asperger’s and POD-NOS
- Childhood disintegrative disorder
This form of autism is rare but usually severe. Children with childhood disintegrative disorder will develop normally but around the ages of two – four, they may lose mental, language and social skills.
- Pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDS-NOD)
Children with this form of autism are stuck in the middle: their case is not as severe as autistic disorder but it is more severe than Asperger’s.
Treatment options for autism in Nigeria
There is no cure for autism, but WebMD has acknowledged that there are different therapies that can help to manage the condition. People living with autism can get speech and behavioural therapies to improve these areas. There are also medications used to treat medical issues related to ASD.
The biggest challenge when it comes to ASD in Nigeria is the ignorance surrounding the condition. The more people understand what it means to be on the spectrum, the easier it would be to remove the stigma and shame associated with it.
Also Read: What is special needs education