As Ghana joins other members of the United Nations (UN) to celebrate this year’s world Autism Awareness Day, Ghanaians have been urged to grow more accommodating of children with the condition.
Autism, a neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in childhood and lasts throughout a person’s life, still has its cause unknown with research suggesting that both genes and environment may play an important role.
In some parts of Ghana, the condition is still attributed to witchcraft or a curse from the gods, with affected children and adults subjected to various forms of abuse and stereotyping.
Although the country’s health sector does not have an accurate data on the condition, it is currently estimated that 1 in 87 children under the age of 3 years are affected by it.
Autism is also known to be four times more prevalent in boys than in girls, a situation that is also not easily explainable. A visit by GhanaWeb to the Autism Awareness Care and Training (AACT) at Kokomlemle in Accra, showed some autistic children going about their daily school activities with the help of their facilitators.
The centre which was started some twenty years ago, currently has close to 30 patients, with each assigned to a caregiver. Speaking on recent developments and preparations towards this year’s event, Educational Director at the facility, Elorm Duah stressed on the importance of special care for autistic children.
According to her, once these treatments and trainings are done, it will be easier for the children to integrated into society.
“The center is to help train the children holistically, not just academics but everything that has to do with them. Self-help skills, independence skills, everything that they can do to fit in, we teach them here, and so we have been taking them through literacy, sensatory issues, communication and language. The independence skills include how to comb their hair, cut their nails, bath and brush their teeth.
It’s all about them. We want to make sure that the child is able to fit into society, everything that the child needs to be able to do that, we help and enforce.”
The annual World Autism Awareness Day which falls on April 2 each year, aims at bringing individual autism organizations together to aid in research, diagnoses, treatment, and overall acceptance for those with this neurological variance.
Appealing for acceptance and love for autistic children in the country, Rosemond Gyimah Acheampong, mother of a seven-year-old autistic child, described her experience with autism care-giving as challenging.
She said, although treatment was expensive, she is optimistic of a positive result. She attributed her acceptance and knowledge of the condition on a training received when her son was diagnosed.
“It was my mom who noticed Papa’s condition and drew our attention to it. We were worried because know of our other children had autism. We took him to the hospital and they couldn’t tell us what was wrong with son. I’m very grateful for the training I got, my family was supportive and so was our church, they helped contribute to sponsor my trip outside.
When I came back, I trained my husband, a facilitator and our children and now they know how to treat Papa. He is such a lovely boy. He loves music and is athletic, you should see him play the drum.
Our only difficulty is getting his medication. We can’t get any to buy in Ghana, so we always have to import. Everything about this condition is expensive. From his chiropractic therapy to his swimming lessons and massages, everything,” she added.
This year’s celebration is on the theme; “Empowering women and girls with autism”.