Customised learning programmes vital for autistic children

Monday, January 13th, 2020 00:00 |
Ken Ouma with his trainer Andrew Oduor. Photo/PD/John Ochieng

At a glance, Ken Ouma’s mind seems far away: he is visualising what the sketch for his next portrait will look like.

Although, he has already completed a couple of drawings, his trainer still instructs him on how best to do the new one.

Even as Ouma (24) struggles to do this, he also faces social-interaction difficulties, communication challenges, a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviour and epilepsy.

These are the few symptoms his teacher, Andrew Oduor, says make Ouma appear different from other children.

Ouma is one of the children in the Mukuru Promotion Centre with special needs.

He lives with autism, a broad range of condition characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviour, speech and non-verbal communication. 

Felicity Nyambura, founder, Autism Society of Kenya (ASK), says autism, also known as a neuro-developmental disorder with biological basis, affects more boys than girls at a ratio of 4:1, but reasons behind this are still unknown.

Some paintings by children with autism at the Mukuru Promotion Centre. Photo/PD/John Ochieng

However, in as much as there is no data on autism cases in Kenya, the World Health Organisation (WHO), records it as the fastest growing disability in the world.

As of November 2019, the health agency indicated that one in 160 children have an autism spectrum disorder.

Although they can live independently, many of them have severe disabilities that require long-term care and support.

Nyambura, who strongly insists diagnosis should be done by a paediatrician or a child neurologist says ASK has ways of carrying out rapid assessment to determine whether a child is on the spectrum of Autism

“Autism is not genetic and causes are not known yet, but there are a few indicators such as delayed milestones after birth, accompanied by hyperactivity and unusual aggression.

The child more often than not may have delayed speech, despite attaining the age where they should be communicating by speech,” says Nyambura.

Oduor says special abilities are more often common in autism than in any other special group and that is why when they are exposed to certain skills, they tend to do it with perfection. For Ouma, the skill is drawing and painting.

“As his trainer, I always make sure he does his painting to his best ability because he has the talent.

The problem comes in when such children are looked down on by the society and made to just sit at home doing nothing, yet they can be beneficial to the society,” he adds.

Unfortunately, Oduor says the transitioning these children undergo often pushes them out to woefully lacking systems, yet they need assistance.

“The problem is there is a belief that high-functioning autism spectrum disabilities are mild and might need close to nothing in the way of support, but that is actually false,” he explains.

Oduor says working with these children is the only way to ensure that the community accepts them.

Nyambura agrees, adding that children with autism need rehabilitation before they can be taken through an educational programme. 

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