No fewer than 4,000 persons from Lagos and some other parts of the country were at this year’s edition of the annual autism conference organised by the Guaranty Trust Bank Plc.

The two-day event held in Lagos and rounded off, on Wednesday, with a theme, “Autism: Transitions, vocational skills and the role of technology,” was the ninth in the series.

Aside facilitators who are caregivers, healthcare professionals including Dr. Loretta Burns, an expert in the field of neurodevelopmental disorders, Dr. Tisa Hooper-Johnson, the Medical Director of the HFHS Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities (CADD), USA and Janette Washington, a speech-language pathologist, many parents and school owners who have children living with autism stormed the conference and some with their affected children.

They told Tribune that they came to acquire new knowledge and skills that would help them and their children living with autism to living a better and more purposeful life.

 Autism, according to the encyclopedia, is a developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterised by difficulty in social interaction, communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour.

In his welcome address at the forum held at Muson Centre, the Chief Executive Officer of GTBank, Mr Segun Agbaje, said the sole essence of the annual autism conference as part of the bank’s corporate social responsibility initiatives, is to empower people with autism to achieve a life of purpose.

He described a life of purpose as the one when a person notwithstanding health conditions gets his or her dreams and aspirations for life fulfilled.

Agbaje explained that the yearly awareness campaigns and discourse on this particular health challenge has really yielded what he called tremendous positive results.

According to him, about 4,000 children have benefited directly from one-on-one consultation services which is a break-away section of the programme, and more than 12,000 people have participated in the previous eight editions just as about 15,000 have also been trained on the best world practice to manage the disorder.

But even at that, Mr Agbaje pointed out, there is along way to go as many children and adults living with the disorder still lack the support and vocational training that they need to develop critical skills for an independent and productive life.

He said, “Today, most children with autism are not getting the education they need and that over 80 per cent of adults with autism are also not economically engaged and consequently depending on relatives to survive.

“For all these and more, we would have to do something and that is the direction of this year’s conference,” he submitted.


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