The demise of Chidi Izuwah, a man described by those in medical space as “Father of Autism” in Nigeria has left a huge gap in the treatment, awareness and intervention of autism in Nigeria. In a country saddled with a high dose of religious and superstitious beliefs, many ailments and conditions are always seen as something spiritual or supernatural. One of the ailments that people are yet to come to terms with is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a child’s ability to communicate, interact socially with his environment and also involves unusual behavior that might be repetitive and rigid in nature. This particular ailment has been viewed from different lenses ranging from superstitious to spiritual. The change of this perception has always been the lifetime project what the late Chidi Izuwah.
Having done a lot of intervention, awareness and sensitization to the public. Engr. Chidi Izuwah brought to the fore the challenges of children with autism and what the government need to do to be involved in this. His opinion on autism was in line with the scientific position and what was written in scientific journals.
He said that “The communication issues in ASD might be absent, delayed, or abnormal speech for age. They might have inability to understand facial expressions, act as though deaf or repeat words said to them. Some might have words but not for effective communication while some have poor comprehensions skills, hence inability to follow instructions”.
A major trait with ASD is the absence of social skills characterized by disinterest or insensitivity to goings on around them, aloofness and a difficulty in connecting or playing with other children. Some might not understand the concept of pretend games or use toys in a creative way. They might not understand feelings of others or share interests or achievements with others (drawings, toys).”
The late Engr. C.K.C Izuwah is Archetypical in terms of being a strong advocate and father, co-founder of Our Lady of Guadalupe Health Foundation and Autism Centre in Port Harcourt and Abuja in Nigeria. His passion stemmed from a family member being diagnosed with Autism (ASD) 18 years ago (2003). He was personally involved in domestic affairs associated with nurturing a young mind with ASD and went into individualized personal research for a management protocol in a quest to satisfy his active cerebral mind. This passion led him to read extensively about this disorder to the extent that he was sometimes mistaken for a medical doctor in the field due to the wide knowledge he had garnered over the years and his exuberance with intellectual finesse while discussing autism.
Due to his belief in providing exceptional wholesome integrated services with empathy to children with ASD and his conviction that no child should be left behind by harnessing their potentials, he co-founded The Our Lady of Guadalupe Centre for Autism with his wife, Dr (Mrs.) Doris Izuwah. It started from one room in his humble home in Port Harcourt and has grown to a capacity of providing multidisciplinary services to over 100 children with special needs, while providing jobs to more than 50 youths. It also serves as a referral center for hospitals and is resourced with specialists who help these children especially in the areas of assessment, diagnosis, and integration/inclusion into the society.
Speaking on the progress of facility, the widow of Chidi Izuwah, Dr ( Mrs) Doris Izuwah opined that “With the improvements seen in most of the children with ASD using the multidisciplinary approach, we have extended the same management protocol to other children with developmental challenges e.g., Down syndrome, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Cerebral Palsy. My husband believed in providing quality education and succor to the parents of these children. He was their father and participated in most of the activities at the Centre.”
Dr Doris also added “Chidi ensured that all toys bought were rugged with good quality parts for durability. Starting OLG from his house meant that his children’s toys ended up being for the foundation and that did not deter him. I recollect our children making exclamations such as – “Oh it’s in OLG “when they couldn’t find their story books and toys, and this has not changed. He was generous and ensured there was continuous supply of toys that would improve the play and fine motor skills of special needs children He was ever present as a backup whenever we reached a brickwall at OLG. His Motto was, ‘NEVER GIVE UP. THERE IS ABILITY IN DISABILITY.”
“The threshold of Chidi’s patience was amazing and highly commendable. There was a story of a 3-year-old child with autism, whom he was accompanying that threw a huge tantrum at the airport for almost 2 hours. He kept his cool and remained calm till the storm was over. This is highly unusual for a man of his caliber who despite his busy routine had put in many sleepless nights managing autism issues, tackled the gray areas as there was no physical help in understanding autism in the early 2000 as he did most of the research himself”, Doris quipped.
When alive, Chidi always wanted to Improve and optimize the quality of life for Individuals with ASD, he encouraged his wife and the staff to work with many schools and hospitals in a collaborative way by organizing several trainings on education, biomedical interventions, fostering independence, proper transitioning, multi-disciplinary approach and awareness and advocacy in the community. He sponsored most of these events.
His impact in autism awareness were numerous and a lot of firsts. In conjunction with OLG, he coordinated /celebrated the first World Autism Awareness Day in Nigeria at Hilton, Abuja Nigeria with the late Prof Dora Akunyili as the special guest of honor at the event. He sponsored many OLG awareness walks & campaigns, and trainings in collaboration with institutions such as National Hospital Abuja, Garki hospital Abuja, Nisa Premier Hospital Abuja, and University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital. He was indeed the father of autism at OLG because he was the role model of many fathers whom he inspired to rise up as FIGHTERS FOR THEIR CHILDREN instead of leaving all the cares to the mothers. He also appealed that The National Broadcasting Commission to make it mandatory for media organizations to create PSA slots and 30% of this timing will be directed towards creating autism awareness in Nigeria.
“Daddy OLG as we fondly call you, you were an icon, a legend of our time, a man whose words were always filled with inspiration, advocacy, and wisdom. You were a great father, supportive husband, a friend to many, and a devoted Christian. You were our backbone, support, and an advocate for all special needs kids in OLG. You were their light and voice, inclusion of persons with disabilities in school, workplace and other areas was your watch word, and you never stopped preaching it till your demise”, Dr. Doris Izuwah concluded.