Ghana hosts first Autism summit to mark World Autism Day

Ghana hosts first Autism summit to mark World Autism Day

The first ever autism conference in a western African country will be held in Accra, Ghana- April 2011: The Global Autism Project, in association with Teachers Without Borders and the Awareness, Care and Training Centre (AACT), will be hosting the first West African autism conference in Accra, Ghana on the 7th-10th April. The conference will be held at the Kama Conference Center for the first 3 days and then the last day will be at the W.E.B. Dubois Center. It will consist of lectures, workshops, discussion groups, and traditional musical performances

It has been scheduled for April in celebration of the UN recognized World Autism Awareness Day. This conference is attracting international attention of parents and professionals from around Africa, North America and Europe. It will also be historic in that participants will play a role in forming the Autism Society of West Africa [ASWA].

The presence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is found in every country and region of the world. There has recently been an increase in the diagnosis of ASD in the world, countries in Africa are not an exception. Currently, there is very little available data on the burden of autism on African society.  Specifically, there has yet to be a rigorous epidemiology study conducted that would accurately measure the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in West Africa and yet we know it exists.  Without such a study, the number of affected individuals remains unknown and the needs of the community are unclear.

The educational interventions and treatment for people with ASD require specialized skills and techniques, which must be culturally and linguistically appropriate, and supported by evidence-based practices. Due to the high level of specialist skills required, a teacher or clinician trained to work with ASD children will also be able to effectively work with children with other related developmental disorders.

When children with autism are not given proper support from a young age, they may never learn to communicate, their potential to develop inappropriate behaviors increases, and in Ghana many are abandoned and shunned from society.  This conference will provide the needed educational forum addressing these cultural stigmas as well as honoring those who have stood up against them for years.

In Ghana and throughout all of West Africa, the autism rates and severity are still unknown. The IAPP Conference will formally commence research towards these answers. The causes behind autism are also still unknown. Only by conducting studies throughout all regions of the world, do we start to find trends in environmental and genetic factors.  The IAPP Conference will provide the beginning of an annual series of conferences throughout all of West Africa.

They are expecting around 200 participants from Ghana, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Senegal, Uganda, UK, US, and Canada. Target participants include but are not limited to: Doctors, Special Educators, Applied Behavior Analysts, Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, parents, caregivers, university students, policy makers, community members, and representatives of leading international autism organizations. Teachers Without Borders has provided 100 scholarships for Ghanaian educators to attend through an application process. The need for a local sustainable network of support is immense and essential to effective education.

Autism is a significant disability, affecting most areas of interaction with other people, but also with the world. Many will have additional problems in integrating sensory information and may be oversensitive to noise, light, touch, and even smell. They may also under-react to pain and some noises and may need special training to help them deal with danger and to recognize and respond appropriately to their health needs. Above all, it should be remembered that, however unusual it may seem, the behavior of people with Autism represents their attempt to deal with an often confusing and difficult world and they need help and support to develop more effective ways of managing their environment – not punishment for their disability. Children with Autism become adults with Autism and, although effective education and care can make a tremendous difference to their ability to cope, the underlying problems do not go away.  People with Autism need us to understand them and help to understand us. They need the same care, love and respect if not more as any other human being.

By connecting West African autism resources, highlighting the fight against social stigmas, unveiling the child rights issues, and beginning to formally document the statistics, we give children the education they deserve and come closer to finding answers. For autism knows no borders.

This conference is being Joy FM a local media in Ghana who have agreed to do a documentary on autism for both a radio and TV promotion, as well as cover the actual conference. They are creating the documentary to promote the conference but also to show their social responsibility, acceptance of autism as a vital issue, and to recognize April and autism awareness month. It will be one part of a whole month of coverage. NGO Journalists for Human Rights, based out of Canada are also interested in covering the conference.

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For more information, please visit www.globalautismproject.org/conference

or contact Casey McFeely at casey@globalautismproject.org

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