When a man has not visited another person’s farm, he will say his father’s farm is the biggest in the world. That popular adage perfectly captures what transpired recently at a forum of parents of children with special needs.
The forum tagged; “Sexuality Education for Children with Special Needs,” afforded the parents to discuss and share experience. By the time the event was mid-way, parents who had hitherto been holding the erroneous belief that their experiences were the worst had a change of heart when they heard others’ experiences.
For Mr Gabriel Egwu, his 18-year-old son, Sam, is completely dependent on him for support as he is not able to move. He uses adult diapers. He had to quit his job to take care of his son.
His wife suffered depression for nearly 10 years. When he took Sam to the School for Handicapped, Kuje, rather than see improvement when he went to pick his son, he saw injuries and scars showing the young man had been physically abused.
For Hajia Umar, mother of a 20-year-old son with autism, is like the biblical woman who suffered issue of blood who visited many physicians and yet no improvement; she has been duped huge sums of money by a religious cleric who assured her he had what would cure her son.
She fell into his trap when he delivered a sermon that touched her soul and presented himself as a man whose mission was to help those desperately in need. As soon as he knew she fell into his trap, he started milking her at every point he had an opportunity to do so.
Even when she started raising questions he wasn’t comfortable with, he would either convince her to continue or would severe contacts with her for a while until he was able to come up with another lie. This cat and mouse game continued until her eyes were “opened.”
She decided to stop all forms of communications with him after he delivered some concoction that she couldn’t make head or tail off. She refused to use it on her son and decided to seek professional help with Ike Foundation for Autism (IFA).
Having learnt a bitter lesson, Umar said: “I have an adult child with autism syndrome and for long, I have been going up and down looking for solution. But in this seminar we were taught how to handle children and teach them on sex matters.
“I have gained so much knowledge that changed my perception. Before now, I thought the situation was hopeless and I won’t be able to do anything. But now I know how to handle my son with autism syndrome.
“Before the seminar, I felt I was alone in the world with this kind of situation. The interactive session opened my eyes to see that I was not the only one. We shared a lot of experiences and gained from one another on how to go about handling it. Before now, I was carrying a heavy load but after the interactive session, the load has been taken off my shoulders, I am now relieved.
“My advice to parents is that they should know that autism is not a sickness but is just a disorder that can be corrected if you can meet professionals. Though we have very few of them in the country today. They should not hide their children because they can grow up to be someone great. I have seen a man with autism who is today a professor, though he teaches abroad.
“Children with this order are more than the number of specialised teachers. We need government to train them the more. We need more special schools that are monitored to maintain professionalism and abuse of the children.”
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is said to be a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person’s life. People with autism spectrum disorders have problems with social and communication skills. Many people with ASD also have unusual ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to sensations.
Research shows that not only does autism affect how a child communicates and relates to other people it also affects how they make sense of the world around them. People with autism have also been known to experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.
They are said to perceive the world differently while also having their own dynamic ways of expressing emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger and other sensitivities differently. Imagine a child with this disorder already having enough to deal with on his/her plate, having to deal with sexual predators as well, who take advantage of their situation to abuse them.
The Foundation for Support of Children with Special Needs (FRCSN), in collaboration with IFA on Thursday, July 18, 2019, held the forum for parents, caregivers and guardians of children with special needs. It was convened by Hajia Rafat Salami.
The attendees included Dr Badewa Adejugbe-Williams, a mother of 28-year-old twins, an educationist with nearly 30 years experience in providing care for children with special needs both in Nigeria and in the US; Mr Francis Mohei Oko, a behavioural therapist and Mr Lemmy Ughegbe, a rights activist, whose years of advocacy have continued to put issues of rights of special needs children on the front burner.
With the rising cases of violation of children with the special needs, the discussion was aimed at equipping their parents and caregivers with the skills they would require to impart sexuality education on their children. It also empowered parents and care givers to understand how to cope with this reality by empowering the children with special needs with skills and safety behaviour to avoid abuse.
Participants, however, expressed concern that sexual abuse of children with special needs is still grossly under reported in the country; parents of those who report sexual abuse do not have a sense of being comforted by the system as it often puts untold hardship on them and many schools which purport to be caring for children with special needs are terrible owing to lack of monitoring of these schools to compel enforcement of standard
The participants also noted that stigma and discrimination remain a big challenge making it difficult for parents of children with special needs to bring them out and seek help; the decry the cost of assessment and care, saying it remains beyond the reach of many parents and commended the commitment of caregivers in providing the care needed.
They called on parents to be vigilant on the behavioural changes in their children; teach normal children to be guidance to their siblings with special needs; establish trust with their children; engage their children early enough on the signs and psychology of puberty and discuss the issue of sexuality on a regular basis.
Parents were also advised to know their rights and demand for it in health institutions and establishment; be extra vigilant regarding the sexuality of their children with special needs and mothers should be economically independent so as to have the financial requirements to go through the stages for their children’s development.
Participants also called on government to proffer stiffer penalty for perpetrators of abuse against children with special needs while also asking for more diligent prosecution of reported cases; to do an assessment of all the inclusive and special schools to determine their effectiveness and genuineness; develop curriculum for children with special needs to ensure that even in inclusive education, their needs are met and they called on the federal ministry of education to convene a summit of all stakeholders to review special education and inclusive education policy for implementation.
Educators were advised to develop supplementary materials for children with special needs so that learning will be easier for them and same should be forwarded to the ministry of education.
They called for more attention to be given to the psychological mind set of parents with children with special needs as they also need assistance to cope with the challenges of raising them to become their best version.