AUTISM SPECTRUM: HOW GTCO IS SHINING THE LIGHT, EMPOWERING VOICES • Set to hold 13th annual GTCO Autism Conference 24th to 29th July
By Oki Samson, Trek Africa Newspaper
L-R: Unoaku Sheidu, Corporate Communications, GTCO Plc; Osezusi Bolodeoku, Behavioral Analyst and Founder, FOS ABA Centre & Creative Hub; Remi Olutimayin, Autism Advocate, Writer & Producer; Oyinade Adegite, Chief Communication Officer, GTCO Plc; Solape Azazi, Founder, Cradle Lounge Special Needs Initiative and Tolulope Onipede, Head, Corporate Communications GTBank during the Media Briefing on the 13th Edition of the GTCO Annual Autism Conference held today in Lagos.
Though it still occurs but largely the days are gone when parents lock their children away simply because they can’t fathom what the matter is that their child is different from others. But there is no demonic or spiritual inclination to autism, there is need for it to be demystified.
This is the essence of the commitment of Nigeria’s foremost financial institution, Guaranty Trust Holding Company Plc (GTCO) organizes an annual Autism Conference as part of its social responsibility. For 13 unbroken years, the leading brand has kept faith. This to encourage awareness, engender acceptance, and improve inclusion of people who are on the Autism Spectrum. Trek Africa Newspaper can reliably confirm that this effort has proven to be of great impact for parents, children, caregivers, and members of the community.
Further, the success of the GTCO Autism Conference and One-on-One Consultation has led to improved health outcomes for individuals and development of communities so much that the Annual Conference was exported to Ghana last year and will hold for the second time this year in the West African neighbour.
While the event will hold next week 24th and 25th of July at the Muson Centre, Lagos. The free One-on One clinic consultation will open
Commenting on the 2023 GTCO Autism Conference, Mr. Segun Agbaje, Group Chief Executive Officer of Guaranty Trust Holding Company Plc, stated, “Society thrives when diverse individuals with their distinctive voices, perspectives, and cultures are welcomed and celebrated. It is therefore important that persons on the ASD spectrum are given the chance to succeed and empowered to experience life to its fullest.” He further added: “We are excited about the evolving insights on the management of autism and remain committed to ensuring that more and more persons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are able to find their voice and embrace their uniqueness whilst contributing meaningfully to society.”
During the annual Autism Conference media briefing which held yesterday, Head of Corporate Communications, GTCO Plc, Tolulope Onipede said: ‘People on the Autism Spectrum are persons like us but happen to be different so we need to amplify the awareness and interact with people in the society. They have a lot to offer the society, it is our job to integrate them into the society. One have to keep speaking because that we spoke once doesn’t mean everyone has heard so we have to keep lending our voice. It is a lifelong condition that is why we are also committed to it long term. It is important that our voice is heard, the louder our voice is, the empowering it is.’
‘This initiative started about 13 years ago. Our annual Autism Conference runs through next week. The theme for this year is Empowering Voices for Autism. Monday and Tuesday is for the conference, then One-on-One Consultation for 5 days. We also have activities in Ghana starting 1st August’, Sheidu disclosed.
The Chief Communication Officer, GTCO Plc, Oyinade Adegite added: ‘This is the 13th Annual Autism Conference and we are about creating awareness about the spectrum and to help people who live with the condition. We noticed over the years that people have gained interest in the conference and the consultation. More parents are open to bringing their children for consultation. And so this year, we are broadening our area of expertise by bringing digital specialists not just behavior and speech therapists. We also expanded our reach by going to Ghana. We were there last year and we will be there again this year.’
Expanding further on the objectives of the decade-long, impactful event, the Head of Corporate Communications, GTB, Tolulope Onipede noted: ‘Autism is a lifelong condition. We have a lifelong commitment to this. We are doing this for the 13th year. Our objectives are to create awareness, generate acceptance, and then support the parents, caregivers and other community members. Our impact is actually not once a year. It is only once a year in the sense that we bring experts from all over the world to one location. We have partners and experts across the country for continuous follow-up. The services are available all year round. We also support inclusive, qualitative education and we have inclusive schools both private-owned and government-owned. It is a lifelong commitment. We are happy to be here.’
‘We have a program on Bond FM called ‘Let’s talk autism’, it is in Yoruba. For about 6 years in a row, we have been to Abeokuta so we are conscious of everybody. Autism is not a rich man’s problem, a child is just born. It is only that they are more comfortable to bring out their children and they are more exposed to information.’
On his part, Remi Olutimayin, Autism Advocate, Writer and Producer who lives with the condition shared: ‘I was born in 1978, two years before autism made it into the book. Both my father and mother are graduates but I found it hard. It is great joy and great terror. I have to learn how to keep shrinking myself to walk, to fit into a group, etc. Once I became aware that this is how my brain works and that there is nothing wrong with me, I accepted myself and a lot of things changed. I can anticipate my meltdown accurately and I make sure that I don’t disturb other people.’
The Autism advocate who will be speaking from the perspective of someone living with autism informed, ‘Very often we don’t have a voice so I will be speaking from the place of experience. It is a very scary place when you realize you don’t fit and you don’t know why. You try to connect with others but it is either you are too much or too little, there is always a sort of gap. For the past 13 years that GTB has been doing this conference, they have encouraged more awareness, more acceptance, and inclusion of people who are on the autism spectrum. This is making parents not to lock their children indoors like it was in the past. There must be safe and inclusive environment for all. Stigmatization must be avoided.’
Revealing further on the idea, the Chief Communication Officer, GTCO Plc, Oyinade Adegite noted: ‘The idea of our initiative is that it is platform-driven. The more people you empower, the more it gets down there. The more we continue to speak, the more the impact will reach the people that needs it. We partner with people, we partner with educators, we partner with those in the medical field. It is not one-man’s job. We take it to the Federal Ministry of Health, First ladies, we work on passing a bill about autism’, Trek Africa Newspaper gathered.
A Behavioral Analyst and Founder, FOS ABA Centre and Creative Hub, Osezusi Bolodeoku who helps neurodivergent children to acquire skills which can enable them to navigate their environment effectively noted that communication is a skill which helps autistic children to fit. ‘My role here is to teach how we use creatives, arts, sports, gymnastics to help these children have a sense of belonging. When kids are diagnosed with autism, it is advised that their parents go for assessment as well because there is a likelihood that it is genetic. Then we have one-on-one consultation that all specialists that you would need for your child – psychiatrists, child psychologists, dentists, speech therapists, paediatricians – we bring them and you are not paying a dime. You ask for tips, they work you through, they equip you because you are the one working with your child.’
The Founder, FOS ABA Centre and Creative Hub, Bolodeoku informed Trek Africa Newspaper, ‘As I speak there is no real cause of autism. Some say there are some genetic markers that can say if someone is on the spectrum but there is no definitive cause. Because there is no definitive cause, there is not yet a definitive solution to it. Awareness leads to accommodation. When parents are aware, they are bolder which brings acceptance so we know that despite that our neural pathways are different, we are accepted.’
The Founder of Cradle Lounge Special Needs Initiative, Solape Azazi briefed: ‘I have been part of this for a couple of years and I know it’s been of value. As a parent advocate, we help them know which specialist they need to meet among others. This year, I am part of the focus group to see how this is impactful.’
GTCO is a leading financial services group with banking operations in Nigeria, West Africa, East Africa, United Kingdom alongside new businesses in Payment, Funds Management and Pension Fund Administration. Its leadership in the banking industry and efforts at empowering people and communities has earned it many prestigious awards over the years. Recently, the Bank was recognized as Africa’s Best Bank and the Best Bank in Nigeria at the 2021 Euromoney Awards for Excellence. It also retained its position as Africa’s Most Admired Financial Services Brand in the 2022 ranking of The Brand Africa 100: Africa’s Best Brands.
For more information on the GTCO Autism Conference and free consultations, please visit: https://csr.gtbank.com/