In the year 2000 at the age of two, Mrs Akande’s son was diagnosed with autism in Nigeria. After the diagnosis, there was no information on the way forward. With the help of a mother (her son’s pediatrician) she found a speech therapist to work with her son three days a week while she taught her son all the other skills needed with assistance by his school teacher. Slowly over a period of six years, combined with music therapy, her son emerged from his shell a mathematics genius. With this revelation of hope she decided to set up a centre in Nigeria.
On the 11th of September 2006, Patrick Speech and Languages Centre opened its doors to the public and as you can imagine establishing the first centre in Nigeria dedicated to individuals with autism was tough. It came with its attendant highs and lows, especially when there was no forerunner to follow and we wanted to prove we could do it well as Nigerians without having an expatriate run it for us.
Our first student was 5-years-old. He came to us for after-school programme. I must say his mother was brave giving us a chance at that time, but she saw in us the passion and determination to succeed. Since our first enrollment, we have come a long way and introduced many different programmes that have impacted positively in the lives of the individuals under our care.
To date, the centre has seen over 500 children out of which 260 at various times have enrolled into our programme at the centre. We have been able to integrate over 50 children into mainstream schools. Today we have a current enrollment of 41 children and adults in the centre and eight in our after-school programmes.
The centre has also been at the forefront of creating awareness for autism and other related developmental disabilities in the country. As part of our efforts, we wrote articles in daily newspapers and popular soft sell magazines, and we birthed the first magazine on autism titled “Pure Souls,” which today has now metamorphosed into our quarterly newsletter, distributed for free to parents, caregivers, schools, donors and other well-wishers of the centre.
We were also at the forefront of providing training and educational services for parents. We have regularly brought in foreign facilitators to the country to train and share their experiences worldwide and how these experiences can be adopted to a Nigerian model. This year, to mark our 10th anniversary, we had with us Dr. Sutton – a renowned clinical psychologist from Pittsburgh, USA to train on Healthy Relationships and Autism in Adults.
In 2012, we released our flagship movie on autism, titled “Silver Lining,” and since then we have released four short documentaries to the general public.
We are proud that Patrick Speech and Languages Centre is now a demonstration centre on what an ideal autism centre should look like. It is also to our credit that we have assisted four centres in setting up with capacity building and technical assistance. We have been instrumental to the start of the yearly Autism Conference organised by one of the leading banks in Nigeria GTBank.
One of the key challenges we are having is the ability of parents to pay our subsidized fees. Many people would rather spend millions to train a neuro-typical child than a child with developmental challenges. We have had to find ways to raise funds to support these families. Sometimes it is difficult to convince families to stay in therapy due to the fact that we cannot give a specific time that their child will graduate from our centre. When they see a little progress in the child, all they want to do is to send him/her to mainstream school even when we can see clearly that the child is not ready. Parents that are involved and have been patient with therapy have reaped the fruit as there has been seamless integration of children into mainstream schools. Over the years, we have also adopted some of the older children into our work programmes at the centre. The centre currently provides services such as speech therapy, behavioral modification, sensory integration, occupational therapy, pre-academic skills, social skills development, physical therapy, vocational services and music therapy.
At the end of every year in December, we showcase our children’s talents with a public concert titled “Talents in Autism”. The program is in its eighth year and has helped build the confidence of the children and given hope to the parents that their children have unique talents that can be trained into a vocation in future.
The next 10 years will be for consolidation and expansion of the centre. We intend to build a world class centre that will cater for the needs of families affected by Autism and other related developmental challenges in Nigeria and West Africa.
The Centre will be able to provide our existing services and introduce new services such as full vocational services. It is our dream that families that send their children abroad for therapy will realize that they can get the same dedicated services in Nigeria at our centre.
On the 2nd of April 2016 on World Autism Awareness Day, we walked in collaboration with our partners, other centres, our supporters and many more organisations and to shed more light into the signs of autism in Nigeria. We held a press conference challenging the government to talk about acceptance, and the need for compassion in our community. We believe that when our children are accepted and included in the activities of the community, they will grow up to be confident adults and will be able to contribute to the development of their community reducing their dependence on the government.
“Following previous negative reactions to schooling, the Patrick’s experience re-ignited the love of schooling in my children, Ezinwa and Chinyerengozi,” said a proud parent. “Witnessing my son’s eyes aglow as he solved a mathematical problem on the board, my own eyes misty with tears of joy. (*This was in Mr Murphy’s class, after I had said that I simply had to witness the teaching process to understand how my children had begun to make such big strides in the learning and understanding; it was truly an eye-opening experience!)”
“My children learned that boundaries are a good and necessary part of life, because the instruction at home was being reinforced at school and vice-versa,” said another parent. “The sense of isolation in parenting our special children was no longer the common experience and calmness and a palpable harmony was restored to our lives. I could leave my children at school without heart palpitations, wondering if they were okay. As a parent it meant that once again I regained my life. God certainly used Patrick’s, to give my family and I some much needed ‘grace therapy.’”
In our quest to want to better our skills and be the best in the field of autism in Nigeria, we found IBCCES. I went ahead to register for the certification and take the Autism Competency Exam, which overviews the 10 Areas of Autism Competency as developed by their board. All our staff members have now registered and are autism certified. We are proud to be the first Certified Autism Center by IBCCES in Nigeria.