CHENNAI: When a five-year-old boy did not respond to any sound or his parents’ words, his parents wondered what the reason could be. It never occurred to them that autism, a serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate, could be the cause.
“Then I realised seeing a short film on cognitive behavioural impairment, starring Surya. That is how I came to know about autism,” recalled Mohammed Rafi (31) about the time when his son was diagnosed as being autistic when he was all of one-and-a-half years old.
Since then, Rafi and his wife Sumayya (26) have visited a number of private centres that provide therapy for autism. However, they have not seen much improvement in his son’s behavioural development other than motor skills despite spending exorbitant sums of money. There is not much awareness on autism, even among caregivers, the couple noted.
“Inclusive schools with special teachers are the only solution to parents like us. Private schools with such facilities are very expensive that they are out of reach for families like ours. For an average middle class family, it is very difficult to cope with the expensive care that our child needs,” Sumaya said.
“It will be helpful if government schools offer inclusive education with a special focus on autism,” Rafi, a medical representative in Chennai, added.
Himanshu Das, director, National Institute for Empowerment of Persons with Multiple Disabilities (NIEPMD) , said that a State policy on people with disabilities should be in place for such inclusive education.
“For example, States should have a policy to recruit at least one special teacher to every school in the district. Though the NGO and other philanthropists are working for children with special needs, without State support, nothing can be done,” he noted.
“Inclusive education helps normal children to understand these special children better, so they do not discriminate against them. Most children are not aware that there is a difference between mental illness and being mentally challenged. The latter cannot be cured and children who are mentally challenged can only be helped to better adjust to living through training,” Das added.
“Funding is critical when it comes to inclusive education in the government sector. ” says RB Krishnan of Maithree, an NGO committed to the welfare of mentally challenged persons.