I remember my first time in a special needs center for children living with autism. That was July 2009, and I was sitting at the reception area of Patrick Speech and Language Center, Lagos. As a final year Biology Education student, I really needed to know what my future was going to be like. The opportunity to “find myself” came when Nigerian University lecturers embarked on a nationwide strike. I decided to volunteer in an autism center; at least that would have made the break useful.
I sat down at that reception area and saw parents picking up their children and I couldn’t help but notice how fine the kids were. I was excited and anxious at the same time. Mrs Akande, the Proprietress of the school, had told me to resume in two weeks. I didn’t know what to expect. I was also afraid, as I had read and heard different things about people with autism. But somehow, I was happy inside me because somehow for the next few months, I was going to be learning something new.
After a few weeks of working with these children, I got home and told my sister “I think I’ve found my future”. I told my sister about the fine children and how beautiful their smile was (anyone that has met a child with autism can testify that they have the most beautiful smiles in the world). I had worked a few weeks in one-on-one and in group class and I knew that I had a part to play in the lives of these children. I knew that these children needed more than people looking for temporary jobs to work with them. They needed people that would commit to them, and that believed in them, regardless of the limitations of the disorder. When I was done with my gist, she said to me “you need to work with these children”. That was how my journey started.
That journey has taken me to different States and organizations in Nigeria; teaching these children, training others to work with them and creating awareness on autism. I have worked with children of different ages, and I have not changed my mind about how beautiful their smiles are. Success has been redefined for me. You need to see me rejoicing when one of my kids says the first word in my class, or blows the candle, shows me eye contact, agrees to hold the pencil or the crayon, or starts a task and finishes it, or even just agrees to start the task at all, etc. My joy knows no bounds. I have seen kids that had no obvious skills pick up skills and become independent. And I cannot be more grateful for that day in July 2009 that I sat in Patrick Speech and Language Center, and made the decision to start my journey in Autism by being a volunteer.
Today, April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day, and April is dedicated to autism awareness. I wish everyone Happy World Autism Awareness Day! Don’t just celebrate the day, spread the word about autism. Learn more on autism by reading our previous articles. Also, share as many posts on autism as you can. Thank you.
From the bottom of my heart, Cheers!