I recently watched a short film by Ishaya Bako titled “Enitan”. In the movie, the protagonist, Enitan was a young girl stigmatized and ridiculed by peers and teachers, because of her inability to learn at the same pace with her mates. She was called stupid, dumb and treated like an ‘arch olodo’. Such a sweet girl suffered much psychological pain at such a tender age, until her stepmother discovered she had Dyslexia. This information, backed with love and encouragement, was used as a weapon for her redemption, and soon, she began to manage better in class, made friends and the ridicule at school went away.
This movie, enlightening and inspirational as it was, brought tears to my eyes as I thought about the number of children who crave for attention and love but are rejected and stigmatized due to the misconception of the challenges they were born with. Challenges like Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia, Down’s Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder should no longer be neglected, termed ill fate, a curse from enemies or exist in our minds as disorders meant for the white man. Persons with these conditions live in your neighbourhood.
Autism can be described as a complex disorder of the brain which is associated with symptoms such as intellectual difficulties, impaired social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication difficulties etc. When not managed, autistic children may have problems speaking and relaying their feelings. Living with a condition no one can ever relate with is very frustrating. Since the age of three, I have lived with a chronic form of allergic sinusitis (triggered by dust). Oftentimes I develop a rare form of catarrh which makes tears run from my eyes, I become hypersensitive to everything around me – light, shadows, touch, anything. I communicate less because any effort I make to speak makes the tears flow, but then I understand what is going on with me and can make choices to ease my pain and transition to normalcy. These children may not be at liberty to make choices that would let their parents know what makes them uncomfortable, excited or angry. When they try to communicate by touch, body language or gestures, they could be misunderstood, looked at with pity and even taken for deliverance sessions. Autistic children are people like you and I, but with special needs; they need more attention. The extra effort to show care makes a difference in their lives. I wish now that I had done more for Tofi back in primary school, than pick up his pen whenever it slid off his hands.
Like a rose… With extra patience, attention and love, it blossoms even in the strangest of places; as do these special ones. Having a challenge doesn’t rule them out as failures, they feel as much as you do and need a helping hand to stand, grow and blossom. Research has shown that autistic children have great imagination; geniuses can they become with your acceptance. Do not dismiss a child’s strange behaviour but try and seek help, see a doctor, use the internet; do not be afraid to ask questions, there are facilities that provide diagnostic assessment, treatment and even vocational trainings.
Just like with Enitan, information and acceptance can be used as a weapon for redemption. Chocolate cake, butter cake, sponge cake, apple sauce cake are all cakes, just different types of same. Make a decision today and look out for them, put a smile on their faces and hold their hands when they reach out to you. Hope is not lost for children with special needs. Tea Breakers is a catering outfit in Lagos put together by Dr. Akindayomi of Children Development Centre. Guess who the employees are? Young, autistic adults.
To Tofi, Vivian, Somto and all other people challenged with developmental disorders – you are special and together we are going to reach for the stars.
Written by Onyeji-Jarret Constance, tweets at @tz_consyspark
Kindly support The Autism Support Circle Initiative (TASCI) by showing some love to the autistic child you know and educating the public around you on his/her need for social acceptance. Do follow the Twitter handle @theautism_sci