Caregivers, healthcare professionals and stakeholders have urge parents, government and the community to provide an enabling environment for children with autism.
Speaking at the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) 9th annual autism programme in Lagos, the Chief Executive Officer, GTB, Segun Agbaje, said the annual programme was the orange initiative created in 2009 to support people with developmental disabilities and special needs, especially autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
The initiative, according to him, is the bank’s corporate social responsibility (CSR), driven by the concern for people who suffer stigmatisation and get very limited support in the society. The theme: “Autism: Transitions, Vocational Skills and the Role of Technology,” focuses on the roles of parents and the community in providing an enabling environment for children with autism to thrive.
“It is important to take stock of how far we have come in our mission to build a more inclusive and supportive society for people living with autism. Not only are our awareness campaigns significantly growing public consciousness on autism, nearly 4,000 children have now benefited directly from our free one-on-one consultation services. More than 12, 000 people have participated in our annual autism conferences and we have trained almost 15, 000 people on how to manage autism.
“However, there is a long way to go. Children and adults living with autism still often lack the support and vocational training they need to develop critical skills for an independent and productive life. Today, most children with autism are not getting the education they need. Less that 20 per cent of adults with autism are employed and many people with autism remain largely dependent on their relatives for all of their lives. Surely, we have to do something about this, and the focus of this year’s conference is a critical step in that direction.”
Speaking further, he said: “At the heart of all our conversations at this conference will be how we empower people living with autism to achieve that, which is fundamental to us all a life of purpose.
“Individually, it is the sense of purpose that drives us to pursue our dreams, and together, it is what inspires us to constantly seek for more to enrich lives and uplift our society. People living with autism also have their own dreams, ambitions, and incredible potential to achieve great things; it falls to us as parents, relatives, friends, caregivers, medical experts, organisations and concerned members of the public to help them live a life of purpose.”
Healthcare professionals, who took turn to speak, agreed that helping children and adults living with autism find their feet in life is a task that has often been left to their immediate families. “Not only is this not effective in providing opportunities for the affected persons, it also increases the burden that parents and loved ones carry, due to the very limited resources available. An effective means to providing strong support structures is by building society-wide efforts, inclusive in its implementation, through skill acquisition initiatives and programmes that are focused on empowering people with autism.
“Current realities show that there still remains a huge gap in the participation levels of adult people with autism in the labour market, as a large percentage grow up to be unemployed.”
Statistics show that more than eight in 10 adults with autism are unemployed. And indeed, beyond getting the chance to earn a living, employment for individuals with ASD is key to leading a productive and independent adult life.
“Over the years, we have realised that specialised vocational studies play a huge role in helping people with ASD to become truly independent and to play an active role in society. It is integral to their overall adaptability to certain changes in their immediate environment, with visible impacts present in moving from one activity to the other successfully, leaning new things and concepts, and ultimately applying these skills at their chosen vocational fields.”