Group launches mobile application for Autism therapy in Nigeria – Premium Times

Wealthlandnews May 21, 2022
Updated 2022/05/21 at 6:28 AM

Cross-section of panelists and participants at the fourth annual autism conference organised by TAAF
Therapy for children with autism has proven to be one of the most effective ways to manage the disorder, but accessibility to professional therapists in Nigeria has frustrated the efforts of many parents seeking treatment and professional care for their children.
In a bid to address this, a non-governmental organisation in Nigeria – The Autism Awareness Foundation (TAAF), has launched a mobile application to support the care of autism in the country.
Tagged; “TheraConnect,” the application, according to the organisation, is designed to connect parents with therapists across Nigeria. The innovation was launched at its fourth annual autism conference, which was held in commemoration of this year’s edition of the World Autism Awareness Month.
While there are many types of therapies for children with special needs, the application, TAAF said, will enable parents to get access to different kinds of therapists depending on the needs of their children or the severity of the disorder.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a diverse group of conditions, characterised by some degree of difficulty with social interaction and communication. Other characteristics are atypical patterns of activities and behaviours, such as difficulty with the transition from one activity to another, a focus on details and unusual reactions to sensations.
It is usually first diagnosed in early childhood and the effects and severity of symptoms are different in each person.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), people with autism often have co-occurring conditions, including epilepsy, depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as well as other challenging behaviours such as difficulty in sleeping and self-injury.
Data from WHO indicates that one in 100 children lives with autism globally, and there are 135 million established cases globally. Although data on autism in Nigeria and Africa generally is sketchy, a 2014 research indicated that 54 of the observed sample of 2,320 children in Nigeria had autism.
TAAF described ‘TheraConnect’ as a mobile-friendly application that will help parents get help for their autistic children from qualified therapists, and book sessions.
According to TAAF executive director, Omotoke Olugbode, the application which is now available on the google play store would help parents access affordable and effective therapy.
According to Emmanuela Akinola, diversity, equity and inclusion professional, “TheraConnect is a timely initiative that will not only create a platform for parents who have autistic kids, it will also be creating an enabling environment where they can easily get support and get access to different therapists.”
The TAAF annual conference, held for three days recently at the American Corner in Ikeja, Lagos, is the fourth of its kind after COVID-19 disrupted plans to host the conference in 2020 and 2021.
“This year is a little bit different as we haven’t had the conference for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus this year’ conference is themed: Education of Children Living with Autism: Post COVID-19 New Educational Trends and Solutions”, said Mrs Olugbode.
She added; “Our focus is to ensure that new educational trends also provide support for children on the spectrum and as things evolve, our educational setting is also evolving.”
TAAF is a not-for-profit organisation that raises awareness about disability and inclusion of children with disability in the classroom and in society while eradicating stigmatisation and marginalisation.
In her remarks, Jennifer Flotz, a representative of the U.S. Consulate in Nigeria and the Mandela Washington Fellowship, said the U.S. government is always ready to support initiatives to find solutions to some challenges facing children with disabilities.
She noted that under the auspices of the Mandela Washington Fellowship Reciprocal Exchange Programme, the founders of TAAF are collaborating with an American professional, Jasmine Poole, to provide training support for caregivers, educators and parents of children living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

According to her, the collaboration will seek to ensure that participants gain skills that improve how they interact with the children and deal with challenging behaviours.
She said: “For us at the U.S. Mission Nigeria, we are committed to engaging with both state actors and disability activists to promote the rights of people with disabilities (PWD), people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and people with albinism (PWA).
“It is hoped that the training will provide you with scientifically proven strategies for promoting support for ASD children. I commend all the trainers that have come here today to be part of this very important programme.”
Jasmine Poole, an American, who said his daughter was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of two, talked about caring, teaching, and recognising ways to help individuals with different abilities. He, however, admitted that raising a child with special needs brings a level of seclusion and exhaustion.
The Behavioral Health Registered Nurse said “A day in the life of a caregiver-child with autism spectrum disorder can include any number of challenges and stressors. A caregiver might be driving their child to various appointments, advocating for the child’s educational needs, helping their child avoid sensory overload, or dealing with an unexpected tantrum in public”.
Similarly, Esther Sule-Okeugo, the founder of Haven for Autism, a foundation that seeks to provide safe spaces and vocational skills for autistic children, explained that parenting a child with special needs can be challenging, but it is necessary to be intentional about them.
She said: “As parents, our daily work is not only imparting knowledge to our children but advocating for their rights and best interests. Apart from medical care that you may line up to help your children, there are everyday things one could do to make a difference. Focus on the positive, stay consistent and on schedule, give it time, take your child along for everyday activities, and get support.”
While all the panellists admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected the attention and education of children living with autism spectrum disorder, they recommended the possible new educational trends and solutions ahead of a post COVID-19 era.
Speaking further, Mrs Sule-Okeugo said with the pandemic and the related public health restrictions, learning has been a challenge for many educators, families, and students, particularly for children with autism.
“Most children on the spectrum experienced disruption to therapies, and their caregivers reported worsening of autism symptoms and moderate family distress. The closure of schools impacted the delivery of special education services to students,” she said.
She, however, recommended that parents should focus on their children’ss strengths and not just academics because when it comes to students with autism and related special needs, it extends beyond typical education into special education, life skills, and functionality.

On the other hand, Lucky Jet, a licensed occupational therapist with the Medical Rehabilitation Therapist Board of Nigeria, suggested that parents should embrace supportive therapy at home for children with special needs.
He explained that supportive therapy at home is paramount in the education of an individual living with autism spectrum disorder. He added that the approach enhances rapid rehabilitation, evident by the adaptation of the individual to the home environment.
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