Autism or Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain

Experts in the management and care for autism have said that a safe environment is needed to ensure inclusivity for Nigerians on the autism spectrum.

The experts who addressed journalists in Lagos on the forthcoming annual GTCO Autism Conference and Follow-Up Consultations themed: “Empowering voices for Autism”, noted that although the challenges are multifaceted, there was also the need for adequate awareness of the condition.

The conference billed to hold in Lagos on 24th and 25th July 2023 is an offshoot of the Orange Ribbon Initiative that has grown to become a reference point for autism advocacy and intervention in Africa, providing support and empowerment to thousands of people with neurodevelopmental disorders.

The Group Chief Executive Officer of Guaranty Trust Holding Company Plc., Mr Segun Agbaje, said the conference is to promote inclusivity and self-advocacy for persons on the autism spectrum.

Agbaje said: Society thrives when diverse individuals with their distinctive voices, perspectives, and cultures are welcomed and celebrated.  It is therefore important that persons on the ASD spectrum are given the chance to succeed and empowered to experience life to its fullest.

He said the company was excited about the evolving insights on the management of autism and remained committed to ensuring that more and more persons with autism spectrum disorder can find their voice and embrace their uniqueness whilst contributing meaningfully to society.

The conference is expected to feature lectures, panel discussions, and performances carefully prepared to showcase the diverse talents that exist in the autism community whilst also creating a platform for persons with ASD and their families to connect and share ideas with subject matter experts on different aspects of autism spectrum disorders including its nature and management.

A free one-on-one clinic will open from the 26th to the 29th at the Chapel of Light, Alausa-Ikeja. Also in Ghana, the conference will open on 1st August 2023 while consultation will last from 2nd to 5th August at the University of Professional, Studies, Accra.

Head, of Group Corporate Communications, GTCO Plc, Mrs Oyinade Adegite said the first mandate plans create is to create a safe environment for persons living on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by ensuring that persons living with autism are not stigmatised.

While we understand the financial challenges facing many people with ASD, the knowledge and skill from the conference could empower them and re-position them for a better quality y life.

A Behaviour analyst and (IBA) Qualified Autism Service Practitioner Supervisor (QASP-S), Osezusi Bolodeoku said one of the goals that the coming conference aims to achieve is making parents of children living with autism and adults that are on the autism spectrum disorder accept rather than choosing to live in denial about being autistic person, adding that such acceptance starts with awareness, which is one of the purposes of the GTCO Autism conference.

She affirmed that the prevalence rate of autism is on the rise, according to available data, noting that the high data is also arising from increased awareness about the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) which the GTCO Autism Conference is also focusing on.

Responding to plans to expand the conference beyond an annual event and expand it to benefit more citizens in rural and far to reach areas, Corporate Communication, GT Bank, Tolu Onipede, admitted that although the conference takes place once annually, the number of participants benefiting from the programme has grown from one hall to two including a large online audience.

According to her, the bank is just one entity that ventured to take up the challenges posed to ASD based on resources available to it, adding that the conference is what the organisation can bring to the table currently.

She noted that beyond the conference, persons living with autism can also have the opportunity of engaging in free one-on-one consultations with specialists including behaviour analysts, dentists, and occupational therapists, among others.