By Ogochukwu Nwaokafor

I was heavily pregnant with my first issue in March 2013, though there were ups and down going on in my home, but it never deprived me of taking care of myself and my baby. My husband was neck deep in debts and difficulties but then we kept on pushing happily.

Until the birth of my son, for the first 12 months, everything seemed normal, days passed by with their daily routine of constant cycle of feeds, nappy changes, very little sleep, then worry about the family needs.

My son, Chukwuka, was around 2 years old when I noticed some abnormalities in him. He wasn’t saying any word but made different sounds from other children out there. He didn’t even make attempts to walk but when he started, he only made movements from one inch to another and then fell like someone who lacked calcium.

Thinking it was indeed a lack of calcium and vitamins, I started treating him with drugs and food that contained vitamins and calcium but there were no changes.

At three years, I noticed that he was still wobbling with speech but kept on making sounds and more of signs. Here, I noticed something was not quite right; he was always with me. He didn’t like playing with his peer group, rather he played alone with his toys. His behaviour was becoming more challenging.

At a time I had a strange thought he was an imbecile because I was so confused and curious; we did not understand that our son had sensory difficulties. He was oversensitive to touch, sound, smell and movement.

We went to so many hospitals to find solutions to his problems but to no avail. We were told he was a victim of Autism. This I have never heard in my life.

The above is a sad story from Mrs Chukwu who had shed tears as she narrated her ordeal.

However, from the conceptual definition from Chrome, one can deduce that Autism Spectrum Disorder ASD, is a serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact and impacts the nervous system.

It is a neuro developmental condition of variable severity with life-long effects that can be recognized from early childhood, chiefly characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour.

Research has it that there is not one Autism but many subtypes, mostly influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because Autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with Autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges.

The ways in which people with Autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support, and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

Several factors may influence the development of Autism, and it is often accompanied by sensory Sensitivities and medical issues such as Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, Seizures or Sleep disorders, as well as mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression and attention issues.

Research has it that more than 100 thousand cases per year have been recorded in Nigeria. Autism can’t be cured but can be controlled through special attention.

In another narrative by a mother of an Autism patient who has grown to adulthood with the disorder, she said:

‘Our son who grew up into adulthood was still acting just like in his toddler age.

‘I was confused and said to myself, does it mean my boy doesn’t know he is no longer a child at 18? He still plays with toys, color paints, sand, messes up his clothes; sometimes with dirt.

‘I got fed up at a time and decided to send him to a boarding school, maybe he is like this because I am over pampering him.

‘On getting to his new school, I felt he would be a changed person but nothing changed. I kept on receiving calls from his teachers, reporting how unserious he was and that he failed every of his courses; that if such should continue, he would be sent out of the school because he didn’t want to be serious and useful for himself.

‘After the call, I cried bitterly, added with his father abandoning him to me alone, saying I spoilt our son and I should carry the cross alone. I was heartbroken. I went to different prayer houses with my son’s picture, asking God to change my son into a better person.

‘The upper month, the principal of the school called that I should come take my son’s belongings and give him a common home training which I didn’t give him. At the statement I felt a sharp pain in my heart with tears rolling down my cheeks.

‘I went to the school, took my son and left for another school. On getting to the new school, I explained everything to the form mistress, and she told me that my son was just sick, and that he was suffering from Neuro Developmental Disease.

She asked me not to panic; that her daughter was also going through same disease and she would help me take care of him.

‘Today my son is among the top notch students in the school. I thank God I never lost hope in him. I later understood that all he needed was a special care and time. I believe he will continue making me proud,’ she said joyfully.

The range and severity of symptoms can vary widely. Common symptoms of Autism include difficulty with communication, difficulty with social interactions, obsessive interests and repetitive behaviours.

According to research, World Autism Awareness Day is held on  April 2nd every year. World Autism Awareness Day was first established in 2007 by the United Nations General Assembly which declared that Autism Awareness Day would be celebrated on the 2nd of April every year.

Autism is not a communicable disease and as such children with Autism are not to be neglected or rejected by society. They should be given special care and attention, treated like every other person and also be given the best education that can be afforded.

Society should therefore help children with Autism to boost their self-confidence by not neglecting them, isolating them and not talking ill about them because they are never the cause of what they are going through; rather they are just victims of circumstances and as such, they should be loved, accepted and also be taught on how to love themselves beyond measure because they are unique in their own different way.

The state government should equally provide basic treatment and preventive measures to nursing mothers and women in general as a way of reducing the incidence of Austim in our society.