This has become the most frequently asked question since I started The Autism Support Circle Initiative (TASCI) in October 2014. Starting off, our goals were simple; raise adequate awareness about autism in Nigeria and create better care patterns for persons on the spectrum.
We started off with an online awareness campaign – Different Types of Same to raise awareness through storytelling. The idea was to curate stories that will help people understand autism which ours truly, Adelola, was part of. A few blog posts, education through social media and an awareness document was enough to reach over 4000 people, but we had to do more.
Fast forward to July 2015. I had just finished attending the GTBank’s Annual Autism Conference in Lagos and I concluded we needed to do something similar in the eastern part of Nigeria. As Lead Volunteer for TASCI, I had drowned myself in articles, journals, posts, anything at all I could find on autism. I started making notes of possible awareness events that could work here in the South East; precisely on the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) campus.
In between countless jots, endless research and the drive for social good, we settled for four events – a radio talk, an awareness breakfast, a bake sale and a discussion session with Public Health students. Our theme for this year’s autism awareness month was Let’s Talk Autism. The reason for this theme was that we didn’t just want to tell people what we knew or didn’t know about autism; we wanted to hear what they thought about autism, what fascinated them about autism, then have a chit chat about roles we could all play.
The questions from the host of my five minutes radio talk on Zanders 105.7FM Owerri were enough to give a first time hearer of the word ‘autism’ a clear view of what it was. I was able to explain the condition, stating the red flags and how therapy helps. You can listen here bit.ly/1pfRtct.
While this was ongoing, we were having an open screening of ‘Silver Lining’ at our breakfast event at FUTO’s hostel area. I wouldn’t forget what one of the attendees said to me when I joined in after my radio show. In her words, what is most fascinating about autism is how someone can be ‘so big physically, yet so small mentally’. While trying to explain a few things to her, I asked; are they really small mentally or you don’t yet fully understand them.
Given the sheer enthusiasm to learn more, we had an unplanned event later that evening. Over hot cups of Lipton tea that cool evening, I felt the true strength of a support circle. We talked about allergies, behaviours related to autism, diagnosis, management of autism, cure and so much more. During our discussion, someone asked if a child could pick up autistic behaviour by association i.e can having an autistic parent or sibling lead to a child developing autism? (I still have to do more research on this). To help spread the word, we handed out our Understanding Autism leaflets to everyone present.
On Monday, 4th April, 2016, we had the first ever bake sale in FUTO - cake, juice, excitement and awe-tism. As we interacted and sold cakes to students, we also handed out Global Goals 4 and 10 stickers to show the goals we support. By the end of the event, we had raised enough awareness to earn us a free publication on the university’s Lumen newsprint for the month of April, with a reach of over 3500 students.
To round up our awareness week programme, I had a Let’s Talk Autism session with students from Public Health department at FUTO. Autism has often been described as a public health issue and we felt it will be right to take our awareness activities to ‘health stakeholders’ among the student community.
A major point of our discussion was the improvement of post-natal care to increase early detection of autism and a better prognosis for persons on the spectrum. What is post-natal care like in Nigeria? How can we make it better? Can we start educating health workers on how to use the M-CHAT to screen children during post-natal care? This were some of the discussions we had. And of course, the age long question of autism and Down syndrome came up.
To introduce our next project focused on building a real care community for people on the spectrum, we spoke about roles they as (to-be) health practitioners can play to ensure we don’t just stop at awareness. We concluded that our best shot is having more caregivers and special educators. There is a need to get more people interested in special education as a career path. We need to have more caregivers too.
To this end, our goal is simple. Over the next few months, we will start programmes that help interested persons pickup simple caregiving skills, help them understand child psychology better; and in the long run become certified caregivers and special educators.
So why autism really?
We believe in a future where everyone is treated fairly and equally, and has access to quality education that meets their specific needs.
Personally, I know that people on the spectrum are at a huge disadvantage just by being themselves and this is my contribution to creating a better world for them.
So if you feel we are up to something great at TASCI, join our movement to create a true care community for persons on the spectrum.
We tweet at @theautism_sci, and give updates via Facebook on facebook.com/tascinitiative.
We also want to know what fascinates you about autism, so send us a mail via firstname.lastname@example.org let’s talk autism.