By Damiete Braide
Living with autism is an extremely challenging situation for a child, the parents and caregiver(s). Speaking incoherently, not smiling back when smiled at, avoiding eye contact, not responding to their names when called and much more, are only a few of the behavioural traits of a typical autistic and if one has never met one, spent some time with one, you might be a little bit confused when you do, and, that is, if you actually notice the traces easily and quickly.
In Nigeria today, there is little or no existing data on the number of current cases, and not much is known about the statistics of children on the spectrum. This is due to several challenges, including social stigma, lack of awareness, inadequate testing facilities, lack of knowledgeable personnel, lack of adequate government support and religious beliefs.
Thus, the Kanyeyachukwu Autism Society (KAS), a non-profit established in 2017 and aptly named after the young art prodigy, Master Kanyeyachukwu Tagbo-Okeke, decided, with the help of his art works, to draw attention to children and adults living with autism by hosting a yearly art exhibition tagged “Fabulous Autistic and Talented.”
The theme of the exhibition, “No Child Left Behind”, was a successful follow-up to the debut which held recently, featured art works and performances by various children living with special needs.
Kanyeyachukwus’ works have graced the walls of several galleries and museums in Nigeria, Europe and other parts of Africa in the last three years, and even during the lockdown last year, gaining wide acceptance in the art world with art collectors and enthusiasts viewing, purchasing and reviewing his works.
His art has been described in the past as “deep, highly intelligent, and unbelievably very mature for his age” by Dr. Kolja Kramer, Curator Moya Museum Vienna, Austria
Back home, it has also been described as “one that infuses the deep colors of our society and in his own way, brings it to life on canvas,” according to Joseph Umoibom, art Curator and GM, Terra Kulture Art and Studio, Lagos.
An internationally acclaimed artist, Kanyeyachukwu has, on many occasions. had to attend award ceremonies, press interviews, exhibitions, photoshoots etc and all with these occasions come the “lights, the cacophony of voices, musical instrument”s etc, which are usually a trigger to huge meltdowns suffered by autistics.
“It all starts with coming to terms with the situation and accepting your fate,” said the mum. “When Kanye was born he was the cutest of all our babies and for a while everything was okay till we started noticing a few behavioral issues and saw the warning signs, then we had our entire world thrown into turmoil but we never relented, never stopped praying, and my husband and I never stopped thanking God for the gift of having him.”