Auctism – Special baby..



Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by
impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive
behavior. The diagnostic criteria require that symptoms become apparent before
a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain
by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize; how this
occurs is not well understood. It is one of three…


Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by
impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive
behavior. The diagnostic criteria require that symptoms become apparent before
a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain
by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize; how this
occurs is not well understood. It is one of three recognized disorders in the
autism spectrum (ASDs), the other two being Asperger syndrome, which lacks
delays in cognitive development and language, and pervasive developmental
disorder, not otherwise specified (commonly abbreviated as PDD-NOS), which is
diagnosed when the full set of criteria for autism or Asperger syndrome are not
met.

Venue was the Child and Adolescent Centre, the annex of the Federal Neuro Psychiatric Hospital, Lagos. Occasion was the World Autism Awareness Day, where mothers of children with developmental disabilities shared their experiences about caring for these special children.

For Mrs. Janet Geoffrey, the birth of her son was without any untoward incident. The pregnancy period was smooth, she took her drugs as prescribed by her physician, and the scan results did not give an inkling of a traumatic future for the family. She had reason to look forward to blissful motherhood.

At birth, her son’s APGAR scores were perfect. The APGAR is a quick test performed on a baby at one and five minutes after birth. Doctors say the one-minute score determines how well the baby tolerated the birthing process.

The APGAR score is determined by evaluating the newborn baby on five simple criteria on a scale of zero to two, then summing up the five values thus obtained. The resulting APGAR score ranges from zero to 10, and summarised as Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, Respiration.

The first indication that all was not well was when the child, christened James, was nine months old and still wasn’t babbling. The mother narrates, “At the ante-natal, we were told that at that age, children begin to babble. When I drew the doctor’s attention to my concern, he advised me not to worry and that by the time he clocks a year, he would talk. “I noticed other oddities, too. He rarely looked into our eyes or faces, even when we were speaking to him. He barely acknowledged anybody’s presence at any point in time. He rarely made a fuss, and he rarely cried. He seemed content to just sit in his swing chair and stare into space.”

When the child still wasn’t making any attempt to speak at age one, the parents began to fret. Thus began a journey that took them to various places, including faith houses, witch doctors and, needless to say, as many medical centres as were willing to look into their case.

The case of Mrs. Remilekun Ajetunmobi is not different, except that while the Geoffrey kid has been reticent, her’s — a six-year-old girl — has been rather violent. As she delved into her story, she rolled up her sleeves to show the injuries, by way of bites and scratching, that her child regularly inflicts on her.

Aminat Ibrahim’s case is another interesting, though pathetic one. As a woman who has had two successful births, she thought she knew a special child when she saw one. Her doctors thought otherwise.

She narrates, “When my third baby, also a boy, was handed to me after delivery, I noticed immediately that something wasn’t right with him. I expressed my fear to the doctor who supervised the delivery; he took a look at the baby and advised me to take a rest. He was of the opinion that I was either stressed as a result of the delivery, or that I was simply obsessing over my newborn.

“The following day, we were discharged. When I still felt queasy about my baby, I invited a family friend who is a medical doctor to come have a look at my infant son. He, too, returned a positive verdict. Ditto another physician friend. None of them saw what I saw. It was as if everything conspired to ruin my world.”

By the time the infant was five days old, things took a turn for the worst. He lapsed into a coma and had to be rushed to the hospital. It was at Massey Children Hospital, Lagos, that she was informed that her son had neonatal hyperbilirubinemia (newborn jaundice).

According to Consultant Obstetrician with the Lagos State College of Medicine, Dr. Oluwarotimi Akinola, severe jaundice, if left untreated, can cause serious complications.

He explains, “Bilirubin is toxic to cells of the brain. If a baby has severe jaundice, there’s a risk of bilirubin passing into the brain — a condition called acute bilirubin encephalopathy. Prompt treatment may prevent significant permanent damage.

“A child with jaundice who has suffered acute bilirubin encephalopathy will typically be listless, sick or difficult to wake, have high-pitched crying, poor sucking or feeding, backward arching of the neck and body, fever and vomiting

“In worst case scenario, the child may develop Kernicterus. This is the syndrome that occurs if acute bilirubin encephalopathy causes permanent damage to the brain; and it may result in involuntary and uncontrolled movements (athetoid cerebral palsy), permanent upward gaze, hearing loss and intellectual impairment.” That was the final verdict the physician later handed to Aminat concerning her son, now eight years old and attending an expensive school for special children.

Psychologists note the difficulty inherent in taking care of children with developmental challenges. Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr. Adeoye Oyewole, says parenting becomes more challenging when the baby has a special need. “These children are those with malfunctioning of the brain arising from a number of causes, which could be due to viral infection during pregnancy, affecting the brain of the growing foetus. It may also arise due to a difficult delivery, where quacks attempt to forcefully bring out the baby, thereby causing damage to the fragile brain.”

Consultant Psychiatrist in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, FNPH, Dr. Mashidat Bello-Mojeed, says such children have peculiar characteristics, which include inability to socialise. She notes that though challenged children don’t outgrow developmental disability, the situation is treatable, such that the children can attain reasonable level of independence and usefulness to themselves and the family.

She advocates early intervention via early diagnosis, for better results.

She agrees with the parents of special children that it is really expensive to access treatment, especially because of the number of professionals that must attend to the children at various stages of development. They include speech therapists, child psychiatrists, occupational therapists, psychologists, educational therapist, physiotherapist, social workers, nurses and a host others.

The Medical Director of FNPH, Dr. Rahman Lawal, encourages families with special children not to hide them. He counsels them to take advantage of the facilities at the hospital, which, he says, are specifically tailored to the needs of children with developmental disorders.


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