January 14, 2019
By Ibrahim Tarawallie
A charitable organization, Autism Voice Sierra Leone, is strongly advocating for an end to stigma against people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
ASD is the name for a range of similar conditions that affect a person’s social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.
According to the Co-Founder, Mariama Korrca Kandeh, Autism Voice Sierra Leone aims to end widespread stigma attached to the social condition in the country.
Many autistic people have difficulty processing sensory information relating to taste, smell, sound, sight, body awareness and balance. Any of the senses may be over or under sensitive, or both at different times. These sensory differences can have a profound effect on the autistic person’s life.
In an exclusive interview with Concord Times, Madam Kandeh said: “Our mission in Sierra Leone is to educate the public about the condition, give and advocate for support and protection of people within the spectrum, and help in enhancing people and families affected by the condition live a happy life.”
She stated that autistic people needed to have dignity in the society they live and urged Sierra Leoneans to treat them with utmost respect and stop describing them in derogatory terms.
“As at now, these people don’t have any future in this country because of stigma and discrimination. We need to make use of the unique talents that they have. Many of them have creative abilities and we need to tap into that as a nation. Many of them are also great with mathematics and computer science that Sierra Leone could tap into. It is our fight to let them have dignity added to their lives and not to call them fools,” she said.
With regards Autism Voice Sierra Leone, Madam Kandeh disclosed that they are registered as a national charity in England and Wales and also in Sierra Leone. “We wish to replicate some of our activities here and also to introduce new activities that match with the need here.”
She disclosed that they were in the process of finalizing an official partnership with the National School for the Deaf and Dumb in Sierra Leone, so that they could have a foothold in what they intended to do.
“There are few kids in the school for the deaf and dumb that are autistic. We believe working with the school will give us a foothold in the country. Autism is not visible but sometimes comes with a comorbid like epilepsy,” madam Kandeh added.
She noted that regardless of what angle one finds oneself, parent, care-giver, teacher, pastor, Imam, family member or even a passerby, everyone should be aware of what is normally described as sensory overload which leads autistic people to behave differently at different times. Madam Kandeh said autistic people are not possessed or suffering from spiritual problem as generally perceived.
“With the right support from everyone, they can live a happy and healthier life,” she said