Although Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a broad range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, many of its victims have normal to high Intelligent Quotients (IQs) and some may excel at Mathematics, Music and others pursuits.
This was the contention of the Chairman/Founder of Zeebah Foundation, Nzan Ogbe, during the official launch of the organisation in Abuja. Ogbe’s passion for victims of autism is not strange. He has 14 years son who suffers ASD.
The launching had in attendance the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mele Kyari; a former governor of Cross Rivers State, Liyel Imoke and other leading bureaucrats and personalities.
Zeebah Foundation is the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) organ of the Levene Energy Group, for which Ogbe is also founder and chairman. The ZF is a not-for-profit organisation whose single-minded proposition is providing care and support for autistic persons.
Ogbe said, “My son is 14 years old and it’s been a long journey and there has been different challenges from trying to find out what his diets are because most people don’t know that there is diet and it is very critical, what children in the spectrum eats determine how they react in a lot of ways. This really prompted me into this foundation.
“So, for I am blessed to be able to give him the best that he can get but what about those that cannot afford it. I feel like I need to give back to the society by creating awareness, by bringing expertise, technology, research where possible from areas where they have gone ahead and bringing it down here, so that we as Nigerians can benefit from it.”
While promising to offer every child with Autism and other victims of special needs and disorders the necessary support and tools such as inclusive education and intervention, he said they deserve the best because they have, among them, many with high IQs.
He said, “Oftentimes, autism brings with it just as many exceptional abilities as challenges. Many people with autism have normal to high IQs and some may excel at Maths, Music or other fields of human endeavours. My message to the parents is that they need to embrace it, they need to ask for help, they need to seek help, they need to get research.
According to him, Zeebah Foundation envisions an Africa where individuals with Autism and their families are educated and supported by local and global communities.
Ogbe said the organisation came in existence because there was no advocacy in the area of austism in Nigeria.
He said, “What we talk about is advocacy. Advocacy is critical to bringing awareness to this issue and legislation should be passed that create support for people living with autism in Nigeria.
“I don’t want to call it a form of disability but they need to be inclusive. In a lot of schools in Nigeria, there is no provision for children living with autism, so they cannot really go to school because of their condition”
“You see, people with autism struggle with social skills, which may make it difficult to interact with others. They might seem shy or unfriendly, but, that’s just because he or she is unable to communicate their desires.”
The CEO of ZF, Dr. Julia Ejiogu, in an interview with journalists, advocated that schools in Nigeria should make plans for an individualized curriculum to take care of people with special needs.
She also advised government to make policies that would assist people with disabilities and autism in the country.
According to her, the government and stakeholders should pump more funds into the study of special education to care for students with special needs.
She said the scourge of autism was on the increase in Nigeria, adding that Zeebah Foundation had taken care of over 100 children with the challenges of autism in the country
She said, “The government and stakeholders, including schools should do something drastic about people with special needs. Remember that in most schools, people study special education. So we should encourage the institutions to put more money into special education.
“The government should make policies that will help people with disabilities generally, and not only autism. For instance, schools should be encouraged to make plans for an individualized curriculum. Do you know that we do not have individualized curriculum for disabled children?
“They are made to take the same examination and, in fact, if they cannot study, that is their business. Let the government make that a priority in the education sector.
“Let the government make a law that children should be screened for autism from 18 months because in the United States, that is how most of the cases are picked up. There is a test that that they do when they are 18 months.”
Autism is a developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterised by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour.
All over the world, there has been an obvious increase in the prevalence of the disorder.
More parents and caregivers therefore seek quality professional help for their children/wards who have Autism and in the process, they are forced to go as far as Europe and the United States of America in search of quality care and services.
While the World Health Organisation estimated that one in 160 children worldwide have Autism, the Center for Disease Control said about one in 59 children in the United States of America has been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder, with the condition being more prevalent in males than females.