SPECIAL REPORT: How Port Harcourt stood still for autism awareness

Saturday, April 2, 2016 was a big day in Port Harcourt as hundreds of people walked the streets to drum up support for the autism awareness.

Led by quintessential director of the center, Beauty Kumesine, hundreds walked through the streets, starting from the Yakubu Gowon Stadium (formerly known as Liberation Stadium, through Stadium road, down to Airforce base and making a U-turn down back to Stadium road and the stadium were talks were held and folks who had kids with autism spoke out on their challenges and joys.

The Blazing Heart Autism Center aims to create awareness, advocate, support understand, love, educate, express, include, accept embrace and help individuals living with Autism and other related disabilities.

Blazing Heart Autism Center has realized that for many parents the realization of their child is battling to keep up with the academic and intellectual progress of their peers and this can be frightening.

In BHAC, they provide one-on-one home based and school based programs for children under the spectrum.

Beauty Kumesine in this chat explains her role at the Center.
Beauty Kumesine

“The walk was basically to sensitize the public on autism. Children with autism are like a silent part of the population and people needed to know about them and that’s why we had the walk,” Kumesine said.

“Aside the autism awareness, we believe that people who took part in the walk also shed some weight as it was also good for health.”

During the walk, volunteers talked to people on the streets through a Public Address System as well as one on one chats.

Flyers and pamphlets were also given to passersby as well as thrown into cars.

“We had previously done seminars in closed environments but we felt it was time to hit the streets once more and do it in the open,” the director said.

A success story so far

After the walk on April 2, Kumesine described the whole campaign as a success story so far.

“I will say Port Harcourt is about forty five percent aware of autism. These people are not physically disabled, maybe just intellectually slow.

“Because people do not see physical disability, they do not really know what is going on with the kids. We are fighting against stigmatizing these kids or segregating them from the rest.

“We tried to tell Port Harcourt people that these children can be better if they are taught differently or loved and understood.

“We have been at the forefront of awareness, talking to different people, government and parastatals at different levels and at different times,” she said.

No known autism cure

Members of the Bristow Uplift team
As hopes continue to rise that researchers and scientists will soon come up with a cure, there is nothing of that such for autism as it stands.

There is no known cure for autism even though there is currently a management plan for kids with autism.

“It’s not like malaria where you have symptoms and take drugs. This is different.

“These children are suffering from the hands of people show do not understand what is going on with them.

“You see a kid with autism throwing tantrums and because people around do not understand, they probably start staring or laughing.

“And because they cannot express themselves to let you know what is going on with them, you probably start laughing at them. That’s why we are educating people as much as we can.”

Blazing Heart says no to Branding
Carita Osteen Ejiasa of Education Plus and Naomi Acheru of Quantum Travels
Using the word autistic may seem like branding the kids so Mrs. Kumesine would rather say a ‘kid with autism’ than calling one ‘an autistic kid’.

“We have long stopped classifying them as autistic children because that is like branding them. We do not want to brand any case.

“But more importantly is that science has not told us yet if kids are born with it. The signs begin to show from the age of two and above.

“As regards the cause, there is no agreement in science yet. Some suggest it’s a genetic condition and others say environmental factors, but my thinking is that, if science can point out to the exact cause of autism, then a cure will be found.”

Initially, it was thought the Measles, Mumps and Rubella, MMR vaccine was a cause for autism in kids but that has been debunked and there is no known cause for the condition.

A success story so far

Members of the Lifestyle Cycling club at the walk
After the successful walk for autism awareness in Port Harcourt, it seems it’s a success story for the Blazing Heart Autism center.

As Mrs. Kumesine says, “lots of people have started projects and fallen by the way, but for me, I look back at this whole experience and I say it is a success story.

“I’ve been successful all the years. We have been consistent in awareness, working with children, training, research and it’s still ongoing.

“We can look back, not just at this walk we held recently, but at lots of other projects and say we have been successful.”

The event was powered by the Blazing Heart Autism center and proudly supported by Tchanan Foundation, 7th April photography, Airtel Nigeria, Darkman movies, Hard Raidaz Motorcycle club, Lifestyle Cycling club, TouchPH, Rhythm 93.7, Wave FM 91.7, Keeping it Real Foundation, Cutest Girls Ever.

The Bristow Uplift team and Education Plus also made their presence felt on the day.

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