Thursday, April 30, 2015

Touching lives

We started 2015 Autism month with the story of my own Autism journey. We have read from a mother of children with autism. We have also read about a mother of a child on the spectrum that opened her heart and doors to other children and their parents. We are ending this month, reading about a woman, who like me does not have a child on the autism spectrum, but found herself fulfilling a life assignment meeting the needs of these children and other children with special needs.
Her name is Ranti Oguntayo. She is someone I respect so much. She used to be my "oga" in The Zamarr Institute, Abuja. She was the senior support worker at a time. Her love and her passion were so inspiring to me. She always seemed to find a way to get the job done. I had always been curious about how she started working with children with autism, and fortunately, my curiosity was fed this month.
"It all started in my Church sometime ago. They had some children with hearing impairment in their children's church, and they had to help them. Then they invited me and some other members to learn the American Sign Language. I did pretty well in that class, and so I started working with children with hearing impairment in the Church. About a year later, I was invited to Zamarr to work with a new child that they had, who was hearing impaired. The Zamarr Institute is actually a center for children with autism and related disorders. Zamarr then sent me to Patrick Speech and Language Center, Lagos for training on autism, so that I could effectively work with that child and other children on the spectrum. During the training, I fell in love with the children I met, and the job. I remember Mrs Akande giving us the trainees an assignment to assess some children. By the time I submitted my assessment, she was impressed, and she encouraged me to do more. That was how my autism journey started. I returned to Abuja, and started working with the children at Zamarr. I have had the privilege over the years to go for more trainings in Nigeria and South Africa."
Ranti was the first person to give me a platform for autism awareness. That was when we were both at Zamarr. She is an amazing trainer; she taught me a lot. She consults for special needs centers and mainstream schools, training members of staff, integrating children with autism in inclusive settings. She provides different services for clients; behaviour modification, learning support, including counselling and support for parents.
I asked her about the challenges of the job, and she said, "Working with children with special needs is challenging on its own. The children are so different, and you cannot assume that what worked for one child will definitely work for another. Another major challenge is finding a good mainstream school for a child, within the parents' budget, considering that not all parents can afford the expensive schools. Some schools would not even accept the child. Some schools that accept such children are not supportive, and that can affect the work of the person providing learning support". However, she says the job is interesting and rewarding. Really, what can be more rewarding than a child you are working with, making progress?"
My hangout time with Miss Ranti ended with us comparing notes on the job, and I could not help but feel grateful that I have been privileged to meet someone like her in this field. She shows me that passion for the job, and love for children with autism does not have to come from parenting a child with autism. These children are lovable. They need our support, patience and care. With these and a little more, we can live in a society that is special needs friendly, and these children can fulfil destiny, regardless of the limitations of their condition.

Autism Month may have ended, but autism awareness continues. This blog remains active. Also, please keep spreading the word about autism. Thank you.