For families whose children live with autism in Nigeria, life can be incredibly challenging. The lack of resources, combined with social stigma and a general lack of awareness, leaves parents feeling isolated and helpless as they struggle to navigate the system to get their children the help they need.
As part of its commitment to improving the quality of life of Nigerian families with autistic children, Shades of Life Care Limited, a leading provider of Autism intervention services in Nigeria, partnered with Cyclotron Cycling Development Initiative (Cyclotron) and Shades of Life Care Foundation for an event tagged #Ride4Autism, which took place on Saturday, April 15th, 2023, to commemorate World Autism Awareness Month.
The event brought together over 50 cyclists who rode about 50 kilometers within the Gbagada and Ikeja axis to raise awareness about autism and advocate for inclusivity in society. After the ride, an after-session was held, in which the Shades of Life team, Cyclotron cyclists, press, and other invited guests conferred, discussing the past, present, and future of autism awareness, acceptance and inclusion in Nigeria.
Speaking about the importance of the campaign at the event, Eziafakaku Nwokolo, Founder/CEO of Shades of Life Care Limited and Shades of Life Foundation, emphasized that autism advocacy goes beyond raising awareness, but is also aimed at fostering acceptance and inclusivity in social environments, homes, and workplaces for all who are neurodiverse.
“When it comes to Autism, especially in our society, there is a culture of silence that prevents families and individuals from getting the help they need. Our aim is to demystify autism by providing uncomplicated information about the condition, and educating people about it, through informal initiatives like #Ride4Autism,” she said.
Furthermore, Nwokolo, who is an Advanced Certified Autism Specialist (ACAS) and also a Kent University Ph.D. candidate, dispelled some common cultural myths about Autism, stating that the condition isn’t a result of spiritual causes or bad parenting.
“Autism is not a spiritual problem. While you’re praying, do something tangible by seeking the necessary help from a health professional or a behavioural specialist,” she said.
45-year-old Remi Olutimayin, who is autistic, reiterated the importance of Autism awareness and support in Nigeria. Using his unique experiences as a point of reference, he spoke about challenges encountered as an undiagnosed autistic child growing up in Nigeria, life as an autistic adult, as well as his career accomplishments, including being one of the first voice directors for animation in West Africa.
Olutimayin noted that widespread awareness about autism may take some time, especially as it pertains to autistic adults, given that autism was only just recognized around the 1950s.
“This doesn’t match up with the amount of time and research put into polio and malaria and the likes. So more effort needs to be put into autism research, especially for adults who are more or less often sidelined in the scheme of things,” he said.
The after-session featured lots of questions from curious individuals who sought more knowledge about autism. Nwokolo and the Shades of Life team provided valuable information about the subject matter, along with a call to action to support financially disadvantaged Nigerian families with autistic children.
In her closing remarks, Nwokolo emphasized that the journey still continues after the ride. “Beyond awareness and acceptance is the need to raise funds for Nigerian families with autistic children who are financially disadvantaged…and this is why we call on compassionate individuals from around the world to join us and support these families via Shades of Life Foundation.”
Shades of Life Foundation is an NGO dedicated to raising funds for indigent autistic children to get the intervention needed to enhance their quality of life.