INSTITUTIONAL support for child care barely exists and it is even rarer when it comes to providing care for children with autism. Nishpap Autism Foundation based in Chottogram, on the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day, therefore, expressed their about lack of proper statistics, inadequate number of teachers, therapists and schools for children with special needs. Social workers with the foundation say that no record on special-need children is a problem for service providers. According to a dated social welfare ministry survey, more than 1.4 million people are autistic in Bangladesh and one in every 500 children suffers from autistic spectrum disorder. A 2017 study of the Institute of Paediatric Neurodisorder and Autism corroborates the earlier findings, showing that at least 17 per 10,000 babies have autism, with a higher prevalence in urban areas. A national epidemiological mapping of the situation is, therefore, urgently needed to design an informed public health and educational programmes for children with special needs. The mapping will also help the government to identify the factors that contribute to the rise of autism.
While families have an important role in the development of a child with autism, such children require specialised, professional care. There are only a few schools and child care centres and this is far from meeting the needs. Public health experts have for long argued that mainstream schools should train teachers and create posts for professional caregivers for inclusion of such children in the education system. Because of pervasive social stigma around autism, people still assume that they are not fit for mainstream education. This preconceived notion is also reflected in the public health and education policies. As a result, the potential of this demographic group remains untapped. It is not just children, physically challenged people generally are also excluded. The Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act 2013 was made to ensure equal access of people with disabilities to public services. The act requires the enlistment of all people with disabilities and the issuance of identity cards, public awareness creation, identification of children who may develop disability, development of educational materials, including publication of books in braille, introduction of sound-alert road crossing signals for the visually impaired, subsidised travel in public transports, special programmes on television and special insurance scheme. However, the act remains largely unenforced.
The government, under the circumstances, must establish a childcare support system at the district level and hold campaigns against the social stigma as they work towards incorporating children with autism into the mainstream. In this regard, effective implementation of the Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act, including formation of a national coordination committee, is crucial. The government must also develop a prevention plan, otherwise public health burden of autism could become socially and economically costly.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial