Taking a jog the other day I saw this middle aged man also in exercise gear walking briskly towards me, talking loudly and gesticulating apparently to no one. Suddenly I thought, “wait up Daps. Is this guy okay in the head? Are all his screws firmly tightened? It certainly appears like there might be a couple loose”. As if he knew what I was thinking he would dart me intermittent looks. “Ah! E gba mi….who told me to jog the streets this early o?!” Just as I was about to instinctively give him a very obvious wide berth I suddenly came to my senses. Kindly excuse the pun. At that moment I remembered we were no longer in the 1960s or even early 2000s. This man must be speaking on the phone. Of course, this is 2021 when phone ear pieces are barely visible especially from a fair distance. Wow! Did I feel foolish! Maybe it was my senses that needed checking after all. Truly, nothing is surer to lead man to perish than lack of knowledge or ignorance.
I’m quite proud of my fellow Nigerians even though we still have a way to go. Ten to fifteen years ago, most Nigerians had never heard of Autism and the few who had, knew next to nothing about it. Thankfully, some progress has been made since then, though some may argue it’s still incremental at best. The most difficult thing to change in us human beings is our mindset therefore this nominal increase in awareness, understanding and acceptance deserves some celebration. The way I see it though, is that it all comes down to love. Love beats all. With love comes the effort and desire to understand the plight of others (Neighbourly love). My cousin’s wife’s school for the Autistic struggled for the first one or two years because of this same mindset we Nigerians seem so prone to have; to live in denial and refuse to see or accept the obvious. You know, the “what will people say” mindset. It took a robust media campaign thankfully supported by GTBank Plc, one of Nigeria’s leading banks, to get Nigerians to step out of denial and accept that Autism isn’t a death sentence and neither is it something to be ashamed of. Similarly, it was the 1994 big blockbuster Hollywood movie, titled Forrest Gump, that enlightened many people in the developed world about autism. Tom Hanks, the Oscar Award winning actor captured the imagination of the world as he masterfully played the lead character, Forrest Gump, who very clearly displayed autistic traits. That was when I first heard of it.
Autistic people are individuals who simply need special attention. Many of them, depending on the spectrum get to enjoy very normal lives. You would be surprised to hear of the number of people out there who are autistic. Many, I’m certain you’re not aware of. In the past we had the likes of Wolfgang Mozart(famous composer), Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton(both renowned scientists), Lewis Carroll(author of Alice In Wonderland) and it’s even recorded that Thomas Jefferson(3rd President of the USA) displayed signs of Autism. In these present times we have the likes of Darryl Hannah(Hollywood actress), Dan m Aykroyd(Hollywood actor) and wait for it…..Lionel Messi! This football genius needs no introduction. Yes, Messi was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of Autism at the age of eight but look at him now.
My cousin’s wife and her school, Patrick Speech and Language Centre are now without doubt the leading authorities in the field of Autism in the country and it all began when she found her purpose. She had a promising career as a banker but that wasn’t God’s purpose for her life. It wasn’t her God ordained path to Good Success. The good book says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” One fateful day she and her husband discovered their beloved child was autistic and there began their journey. It may interest you to know this same child later on didn’t just get a scholarship to a top US university after scoring straight As in his “A” Levels but is now pursuing his PhD while lecturing undergraduate students! If his parents hadn’t discovered early enough, enabling them to provide him with the appropriate attention or if they had chosen to ignore the tell tale signs, would all this have been possible? Your guess is as good as mine. Mrs Dotun Akande has since gone on to win countless awards both nationally and internationally for the sterling work she’s doing in this field.
As the good book also says, never should anyone despise small beginnings. On that note, I end with these assuring words of God who has promised to always lead us in the way we should go if only we look to Him: “Your path led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters; a pathway no-one knew was there.”
Changing the nation…one mind at a time
Dapo Akande, a Businessday weekly columnist is a University of Surrey (UK) graduate with a Masters in Professional Ethics. An alumnus of the Institute for National Transformation; with certification in Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence from Case Western Reserve College, USA. Author of two books, The Last Flight and Shifting Anchors. Both books are used as course material in Babcock University’s Literature department. Dapo is a public speaker, a content creator and a highly sought after ghostwriter.