HYDERABAD: Little did Zia’s mother know that her child was one among the two million in the country. “All I knew was he was close to four years old and though we suspected he was slow, we never thought he would be autistic,” says Rafia. Zia is now 11 and stays home, tutored by his mother. “Nothing has changed in the last 15 years,” laments an exasperated Karuna Gopal, mother of 19-year-old Srinivas Vikram, an artist who also suffers from autism. From social approach to the tools to deal with autism - little progress has been made, observes Karuna on the eve of World Autism Day on April 2. The absence of schools which cater to children with special needs is a hurdle faced by parents as mainstream schools refuse to take in such students.
“The reason I stopped sending Zia to school was because he didn’t like the experience and there would be a scene every morning. Only later did I realize that he had no friends and teachers would treat him like a part of the furniture,” complains Rafia who resorted to therapy and teaching her son at home after burning her hands with one mainstream and one special school. Karuna Gopal has a similar experience to share. “I changed six schools for Vikram before deciding on therapy at home. One of the schools clearly said it was not equipped to deal with my son while another popular school had appalling conditions. In the name of a common class for children with special needs, they had bundled up students suffering from autism and mental retardation. When I walked in one day, I saw a hyperactive child chained in the classroom and decided that Vikram was better off at home,” says Karuna.
Autism is a developmental disorder which is characterized by impaired development of social and communication skills. Study by US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 88 children in the US are identified by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Detected usually in the first three years of life, the incidence is three times higher among boys than girls. Though the exact reasons are not known, the possible causes for autism include genetic factors, chromosomal abnormalities, diet, environmental impact and vaccine sensitivity among others. “The increase in numbers could be attributed to both better diagnosis and awareness as well as change in the environmental parameters faced by an expectant mother which also has an impact on the development of the problem,” says Dr Vasuprada Kartic, special educator, counselor and psychotherapist. “There are very few schools or initiatives which focus on autism and though there are organizations which try hard, there is a need for special approach to reach out to the autistic children,” says the counselor who specializes in anthroposophic psychotherapist.
“Now there are probably one or two schools in the city which take special care of children with autism and are accessible to people from middle class as the financial constraints for seeking treatment and therapy for a child with ASD are high. However, there is the same stigma attached to discussing autism and there is no place where an autistic child can go and have a good time interacting with others. There is no scope for recreation available to these children,” says Karuna. What the children suffering from autism need, is not curriculum but a different approach to help them cope with life.