Sunday, MAY 2017 — Lagos state
Tayo’s story –
“Adetayo, this your child is still not talking. Is this how you’ll open your two eyes and watch this bleak future of yours? A child of 19 months that is not even trying to say anything. And you tell me there’s nothing wrong with him” I kept my head down, praying that mama’s outburst would stop right now. I felt hot and cold at the same time. I knew my wife was listening. Mama certainly made sure that everyone in the entire household could hear her. I bit my lip, blaming myself for allowing her spend the weekend. Now it was time to leave, and mama could not wait to give me her usual parting advice. I felt the gaze of the gate-man boring into my back, and I knew this would give more fodder for gossip. “Mama, he’s fine. He’s just a baby, he’ll talk when he’s ready. Please, enter the car, let me drive you to the motor park. It’s already getting late o”. I said, while signaling with my eyes for her to drop the topic. “Haa! I knew it. I knew nothing good was going come out of a marriage with Omo Yibo. I warned you but you and your father said my mouth was smelling. After three years, the only thing she could produce is an imbecile” She shouted angrily. “Mama please, don’t call my son an imbecile. I don’t like it. Let’s go already”. I knew of mama’s displeasure with my marriage with an Igbo woman. She only agreed to it after a lot of pleading from relatives, friends, and church members. I was already thinking of what to say to my Angela after mama leaves. The fuss mama has been making about my son is already causing trouble between my wife and I. “You better come to the village, let’s prepare some agbo for this child. There’s no imbecile or deaf person in our own family o. Find a solution to this problem.” She said and finally entered the car, slamming the door to express her anger. I’m not sure how I feel about my mother calling my son a problem. He’s definitely not an imbecile. A colleague recently mentioned that he might have Autism. All the signs are there. He took all the food we gave him, he didn’t even fuss when his mother weaned him off breast milk, but then we thought he was only a gentle child. He was too easy to take care of, it was like we never had a baby in the house. We knew he wasn’t deaf but he was never really excited about the things kids should be excited about, his face never lit up with recognition when I or his mom carried him after daycare. He had fixations a lot, he would do the same things over and over. Sometimes, he would look at the wall so intently and hit his head several times without flinching. I’m at my wit’s end, and I really do not know what to do. “Mama, it is well”, I sighed and entered the car.
Monday, MAY 2017 — Enugu state
Omolara’s Story — (A school coordinator)
Daniel started schooling with us from babyhood. He was in crèche and grew like every other child there. When he started sitting down at five months, we noticed that he never crawled around like the other kids, he never fought for toys, neither did he play with the other children in his class. The nannies and I thought he was simply a gentle boy. However, he cried and mumbled incoherently whenever he wanted something, drooled a lot, and even threw tantrums some times. When he became 9 months old, he grew worse. He never banged on tables like the others, in fact, most of the time, you’ll see him alone in a corner of the playroom. Still, I thought he was only a timid child. Whenever anybody got too close to him, he would bring up his arm, as if to deflect a blow. Initially, I thought he was being abused at home because he always assumed a defensive pose whenever anyone came close to him. When he became 18 months old, you’ll call his name and he wouldn’t even respond. Once, I advised his parents to take him to the hospital to check his ears. None of us had a clue why he wouldn’t even respond to his own name no matter how loud you spoke or shouted. One of the nannies suggested that he was probably just growing to become a stubborn boy. One time, he had a boil on his head, but it didn’t heal like every other kid’s. It was red and bright and left a scar. He still has the scar till today. It was when his parents took him to the hospital again that they found out he had autism. Then, they placed him on a very low sugar diet. Most Autistic kids are usually very hyperactive and very strong. However Daniel’s autism was mild. When he was in the playgroup class at 2 years old, he never identified letters or numbers, yet he spoke not a single coherent word. When he was three years old, he started banging tables and toys (something his counterparts had done years back), yet he never spoke a word. He cried whenever he wanted something, and we had to go through multiple options before he’ll finally pick what he wanted. He did his class-works whenever he wanted, and no teacher could force him. Daniel laughed at unusual things. We were always scared to include him in school or public performances because we could not predict him. Finally, his parents got him a speech therapy and whenever we had school performances, we assigned a teacher to hold a ‘no laughing’ sign for Daniel. At age four, he started reading and identifying words even his classmates find hard to grasp. He has improved a lot, and I can proudly say that he is one of the most talented children in the school, and we are so happy that he’s getting the best care from home and school.
Tuesday, MAY 2017 — Edo state
Victoria’s Story –
“Victoria, please hide that disgraceful thing you call a child. The elders are coming to the house for a very important meeting. You better make sure she doesn’t come out or I’m sending the both of you out of my house” This was not the first time my father would call my little girl horrible names, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Trust me, the numerous insults I’ve gotten from my father’s house alone have dried up my tears. Many times, I would sit in my room convincing myself that I was the author of my misfortune. My mother once said my daughter’s autism was a punishment from God, a punishment for my fornication. I couldn’t even respond to her statement because deep down in my heart, I know it’s true.
I was in my second year at the university when I got pregnant. I literally lost everything. My friends, my dignity, my family’s love and support, my self-esteem, my figure, my skin colour (I became darker), and the supposed love of my life. That year, I became a pregnant college dropout and the family’s biggest scandal. Things grew worse when I gave birth to a child that was diagnosed with Autism. My little girl would go from wild to depressingly quiet in a matter of minutes, she would scatter things around, and scream for whatever she wanted. Once, she pulled my hair so hard that I had to scream for neighbours to rescue me. She never spoke, all she did was drool and display tantrums. She never had other kids to play with as the neighbours hid their children whenever mine was in sight. One day, I went for a job interview, only to come back to find my child tied to a chair. She had cried so much, her voice was gone. Yet she kept crying, she kept drooling, and she never stopped hitting her head against the chair. I immediately picked her up and tried to pacify her, and it lasted for more than twenty minutes. That night, I cried so much and cursed my unfortunate destiny.
You see, caring for an Autistic child is a serious job, yet I’m an unemployed, and stigmatized single mother. I want nothing but the best care for my child. I have grown to love and protect my little girl fiercely. I have no other choice, we only have each other.
Wednesday, MAY 2017 — Kogi state
Arewa’s Story –
I’m a 29 year old nurse with ADHD. ADHD is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Been battling with it all my life, and I didn’t even know. Even when I got diagnosed, I thought I could handle it myself, until things started falling apart. My sister used to say I have the attention span of a cockroach. As funny as it sounds, it destroyed a lot of my relationship with people. I forgot a lot of appointments and dates. I could completely get lost in a project for days on end, forgetting to even eat or care for myself. I’m also constantly late and panicking about it, either because I’ve completely lost track of time or I underestimated how long it will take me to get somewhere. However, all this does not stop me from volunteering for this group, and joining that group. Most days, I feel like I’m being pulled in different directions, and it’s really exhausting. One time, I forgot to submit a patient’s report to my supervisor, and he was so upset that he shouted “you’re so unfocused, I really don’t need this rubbish here, I need you to hurry up, you’re so ADD”. I cried so much after that. Having ADHD made me crave constant entertainment. Sitting around with nothing to do always made me anxious. One time, I went for an appointment and had to sit in the waiting room for a while. I wrung my shirt, chewed my lip raw, and broke a pen. My brain needs to be stimulated most of the time, even if I want to relax. They called me ‘Madam busy bee’ at school. I always looked busy, even when I was doing nothing. The only calming effect was listening to music. It relaxes me a lot. Studying was a lot harder, because I had to struggle to complete class handouts. However, I managed to get pretty good grades. Since I’ve accepted my ADD, I now take medications, I also use about 20 reminders and alarm to keep my life from ruin.
Before Autism came to be widely discussed, people talked about cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. However, the Nigerian society is still in denial of Autism and the excuse they always give is that every child is different. Autistic children are still very discriminated against by teachers who don’t understand, and individuals who don’t care. Caring for an Autistic person or someone struggling with ADHD can be very draining, and all they need is a lot of love and care. In Nigeria and Africa at large, we have this mentality of “I must be ahead of my neighbor”. Hence, we always think we have one advantage above every other person, and because parents shy away from talking about it, a lot of autistic or ADD children don’t do well. We should be concerned about every child finding their feet within their community, not comparing one child with the other or pitting their heads in competition.