INSTITUTIONAL support for child care barely exists. Care for children with autism is even rarer. The ICDDR,B at a workshop on Thursday, quoting social welfare ministry statistics, said that more than 1.4 million people are autistic in Bangladesh. One in every 500 children is also said to suffer from autistic spectrum disorder. The number is alarmingly high and requires proper attention of all public health stakeholders. Participants in the workshop, held with an aim to improve skills of parents and caregivers in providing care for autistic children, emphasised the importance of institutional support for autistic children. In the absence of any public sector support system for special children, much of the burden is now borne by parents, and informal caregivers. To address the growing burden of autism spectrum disorder, the health and family welfare ministry must develop a child care support system for children with autism. Families alone cannot provide the total care and expert support needed for the development of communications skills of these children.
While families have an important role in the development of children with autism, they require specialised care from professionals. But there are only a few such schools and child care centre which cannot cater to the need. Public health experts have for long been arguing that mainstream schools should train teachers and create positions for professional caregivers to help such child to be included in the education system. Because of pervasive social stigma around autism, people still think of autistic child as lesser being and assume that they are not fit for mainstream education. This notion is also reflected in public health and education policies. As a result, the potential of this demographic group remains untapped. In what follows, experts have suggested that the government must establish child care support system at the district level and run campaign against the social stigma as it works towards the incorporation of children with autism into the mainstream. The exact cause of autism spectrum disorder is currently unknown and it may be occurring as a result of genetic predisposition, environmental or unknown factors. There is, therefore, also a need for the government to set up a task force involving public health experts and medical professionals to ascertain the reasons for the rising number of autistic people in Bangladesh.
In general, neither the social welfare department nor the health and family welfare ministry took up the issue of public sector child care support seriously. In the context, when a large number of women, particularly working class women, enter the labour market, there is a growing demand for government-supported childcare system, not just for children with autism, but for children at large.
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