Dotun’s life took a different turn in the year 2000 when her son received an Autism diagnosis. She embarked on a journey of restructuring her life, reevaluating her beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and intellectual perspectives. This experience propelled her to create the Puresouls Learning Foundation. Let’s read her story to know more about it.
EM- PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND BRAND
I am Dotun Akande who is deeply passionate about making a difference in the lives of families living with autism. I am happily married and a proud parent of three wonderful children. I started my career as a banker but delved into the world of autism out of my personal pain. It is this personal experience and the love and dedication I have for my family that motivated me to establish the 1st autism centre – Patrick Speech and Language Centre in Lagos, Nigeria in 2006. I studied economics and have since changed career and honed my skills in this focus area. I am now an Advanced Certified Autism Specialist.
My journey began when I recognized the unique challenges faced by individuals with autism and their families. Witnessing firsthand the impact it had on my own child, I became determined to create a supportive and nurturing environment where families could find solace, guidance, and specialized services.
Over the years, we have been at the forefront of providing quality services tailored to meet the specific needs of individuals with autism. We offer specialized speech and language therapy, educational programs, occupational therapy, and other interventions designed to enhance communication, social skills, and overall development. Our dedicated team of professionals works tirelessly to create a warm and inclusive environment where each individual can thrive and reach their fullest potential.
The centre not only focuses on the direct care and support for individuals with autism but also places a strong emphasis on empowering families. We believe that by providing education, resources, and a sense of community, we can equip families with the knowledge and tools needed to navigate the challenges of raising a child with autism. We offer parent training programs, support groups, and workshops to ensure that families feel supported, understood, and empowered throughout their journey.
My commitment to the autism community goes beyond the walls of the centre. I actively collaborate with local organizations, schools, and government agencies to raise awareness about autism and advocate for inclusive policies and opportunities. I firmly believe in the power of collaboration and partnership to create a more inclusive society for individuals with autism.
Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work on various projects such as setting up Puresouls Learning Foundation in 2007 to support families struggling financially to help their children with a developmental disability, partnering with Gtbank to start the Orange Ribbon Initiative Autism Conference in Nigeria, set up our vocational unit – Gazelle Studios, partnered with other specialists to set up Patricks Training Academy as well as give talks and training at high-level events nationally and internationally to promote Autism Awareness. These experiences have allowed me to develop strong skills in the Autism Space. I am known for my passion to change how individuals with Autism are viewed all over the world as a contributor to our society and not as a burden.
In addition to my professional background, I am a lifelong learner. I believe in continuously expanding my knowledge and staying updated with the latest advancements in my field. I have pursued training in all areas of Autism such as Behaviour Management, Speech and communication development, Listening Skills, Sensory systems, and many more too numerous to mention to further enhance my skills and expertise.
Outside of work, I enjoy listening to music and dancing It helps me find balance and inspiration in my life. I am also actively involved in community programmes, as I believe in giving back to society and making a positive impact.
Overall, I am driven, dedicated, and always eager to take on new challenges. I thrive in dynamic environments and enjoy collaborating with others to achieve shared goals.
EM- HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN THIS FIELD?
I have been working in this field since 2005. I started out by educating the public about Autism. I was writing in the City People Magazine to create Awareness about Autism and its management.
EM- WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GO INTO THIS FIELD?
When my son received an Autism diagnosis in the year 2000, I initially dismissed it as a minor hurdle, believing that with my own abilities, everything would soon fall into place. Little did I know that this “bump” would profoundly impact my life. It became the pivotal moment that reshaped my existence. I embarked on a journey of restructuring my life, reevaluating my beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and intellectual perspectives. It required me to let go of preconceptions and start anew. This transformative experience gave birth to the establishment of the Patrick Speech and Language Centre and Puresouls Learning Foundation.
EM- TIPS ON HOW YOU STARTED?
I started small and built my wings on my way up. When I knew I was going to embark on this journey the first step I took was to learn more about how to manage children with Autism. My experiential knowledge was not enough to carry me through I sought out experts in the field and humbled myself to learn from them. I travelled all over the world for training. With each training, I would come back to retrain our staff and also parents.
EM- YOU ARE A FORCE TO RECKON WITH IN THE SOCIETY, HOW DID YOU GROW TO THIS LEVEL?
By developing a deep understanding of autism, staying updated with the latest research, interventions, and best practices, attend conferences, workshops, and training programs to enhance my knowledge and expertise in the field. Forge collaborations with other professionals, organizations, and stakeholders in the autism community. By working together, sharing knowledge, and joining forces on projects and initiatives, we can amplify our impact and gain recognition as a collaborative force in the field.
We also engage with the autism community by organizing support groups, parent training programs, or community events. Provide a platform for individuals with autism and their families to connect, share experiences, and access resources. By actively engaging with the community, we established trust, built relationships, and were seen as a valuable resource in the field.
EM: HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?
Success to me is our ability to create a positive impact and contribute to the well-being of people living with Autism in our society. This includes helping others, making a difference in the community, promoting social change and encouraging the parents to focus on the innate strength that each child carries rather than the challenges they face. The notion of success can extend beyond individual achievements to include the collective welfare of people living with Autism. Success can also be seen as the ability to overcome obstacles, setbacks, or adversity. It reflects resilience, perseverance, and the ability to learn and grow from challenging experiences. The process of overcoming hurdles and emerging stronger is a great measure of success.
EM: IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO START YOUR CAREER OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
Start early to engage in life-changing projects.
EM- EVERY BUSINESS-MINDED SUCCESSFUL PERSON HAS A STORY, WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE?
Our first challenge was to educate the community about understanding what Autism is and what it is NOT. There are many misconceptions and stigma associated with Autism due to lack of knowledge and resources. We had to embark on a serious Awareness programme stressing the need for acceptance and early intervention. This led to our second challenge, finance. How do we fund these programmes? Many organizations just want to do one-off and move on. We have to constantly write letters asking for financial support to grow awareness. There is also a scarcity of resources and services specifically tailored for individuals with autism in Nigeria. This includes a shortage of trained professionals, specialized therapies, appropriate educational materials, and assistive technologies. Limited access to these resources hinders the quality and effectiveness of interventions and support provided at the centre.
All these challenges are now a thing of the past. We have grown to build a resilient system that takes care of all these challenges
EM- WHAT SETS YOU APART?
We adopted a comprehensive and holistic approach to intervention and support. This involves providing a range of services, including assessments, therapies, educational programs, vocational training, and family support. Taking a multidisciplinary approach with professionals from various fields helped enhance the quality of care provided.
Recognizing and respecting cultural diversity was crucial for our autism centre to make progress. We needed to understand and adapt interventions to the cultural context of our local community leading to effective outcomes. Consideration of cultural beliefs, practices, and language helped create a welcoming and inclusive environment for our individuals and their families.
Having a team of well-trained and qualified professionals specializing in autism management helped shape our quality of service. Ensuring that staff members, including psychologists, therapists, and support staff, receive ongoing training and professional development in evidence-based approaches for autism.
Recognizing the importance of involving parents and families in the intervention process sets our centre apart. Providing parent training, support groups, and opportunities for involvement helped empower families to actively participate in their child’s development and make informed decisions about their care.
EM- YOU ARE AN INSPIRATION TO MANY, WHO/WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Experiencing inspirational stories of our children, adults and young adults motivates me. Many who have overcome their challenges and are on the path of self-discovery and attainment serve as a motivational force. Learning from the experiences and successes of others around the world inspires and reinforces the belief in the potential for positive outcomes. A close example is my Son who is doing great in his life career as a mathematician and enjoying every bit of it. Also closely related is Oreofe who has been working with us for the past 5 years as a class assistant and doing well. We are proud to say that as a taxpayer he is contributing to the building of our society and economy.
EM- WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?
Progress, change and our great team @ Patricks. Without them, I cannot be applauded for my great work. Greatness is only achieved because we are a team.
EM- IF YOU WERE TO WRITE A BOOK ABOUT YOURSELF WHAT WOULD BE THE TITLE?
I will name it “BOLD”
EM- PLEASE KINDLY SHARE SOME OF YOUR SECRETS TO BECOMING SUCCESSFUL WITH EM.
The main secret is staying true to myself and believing in the strength that lies within. Yes, there can be self-doubt, but my advice is to don’t stay too long on that lane. Quickly find ways to change lanes and move towards the success route. You will gain strength as you continue to move forward. Be kind to others. The fact that you are a professional does not mean you have all the answers. Our children with Autism especially those that are non-verbal have a lot to share if we are humble enough to meet them where they are. If anyone knows the whole answer we won’t need experts. Our children are the TRUE exerts. Learn from them.
EM- WHAT ADVICE WILL YOU GIVE TO YOUTHS WITH THE ZEAL TO GROW?
Find and pursue what you are truly passionate about. Let your passion be the driving force behind your work. Identify your purpose and the impact you want to make in your chosen field. When you are aligned with your passion and purpose, it becomes easier to stay motivated and overcome challenges.
Build a strong professional network by connecting with individuals who share similar interests and goals. Attend industry events, join professional associations, and engage in online communities. Collaborate with others, share knowledge, and leverage collective expertise. Cultivate relationships with mentors, peers, and potential partners who can support and inspire your journey. Expect challenges along the way, and view them as opportunities for growth. Embrace failure as a stepping stone to success. Learn from setbacks, adapt your approach, and persevere. Resilience and the ability to bounce back from setbacks are key traits for long-term success.
EM- PLEASE SHARE CONTACT DETAILS YOU WISH TO BE MADE PUBLIC
Patrick Speech and Languages Centre and;
Puresouls Learning Foundation
13b Remi Fanikaode Street