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Understanding Autism

This year's second of April marked the fourth annual celebration of World Autism Awareness Day; media coverage and references to this condition in movies has managed to create a certain level of 'awareness' amongst us: more people know about this condition nowadays than, say, even three years back. But how much do we actually know?

Very simply put, autism is a disorder of neural development, characterised by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behaviour.

No two people with autism will have the exact same symptoms --it is a wide-spectrum disorder. Even now, the cause of autism is unknown to science. Individuals may show varying combinations of the symptoms; then again, some will have mild symptoms while others will have severe ones.

In infants, indifference to the affections of family members is an early sign of autism. As they grow older, they may begin to show other signs like lack of interest in learning to eat, using the toilet and speaking. There is a preoccupation with fantasy and lack of concern for reality, and they will prefer to stay by themselves. We know that even science is baffled by this condition hence it is no wonder that there are quite a few myths about autism. For instance, it is often believed that autistic individuals do not have any emotions. While it is true that an autistic person may not understand the concept of empathy or express feelings in a way that we will understand, it is incorrect to say that they are devoid of any feelings. They do feel emotions like affection, love, anger -- it is us who do not understand them. It is also widely believed that all autistic people are immensely talented; yes, there are many who are talented, but there are also others who have average intellect. Then again, in our own country, you are likely to find people who have self-made theories which state that being autistic is the same as being mentally unsound.

If you consider the increasing incidences of autism in the children of Bangladesh and the annoyingly negative attitude of the masses, you will see that it is important to understand the autistics.

There is no 'cure' for autism; all that can be done is to understand autism so that these children may be helped to face the cruel world when they grow up. The best way to do this is to get them enrolled in special schools for autistics as soon as possible. Before you go on to argue about why they cannot get enrolled at normal schools, let's try to be realistic and think about certain facts: autistic children need to learn to socialise first; they need full attention of their teachers to learn everything. Other children may shun him/her and make the situation worse, and of course, there are their parents who will just not accept a “retard” in his/her dear child's class. On the other hand special schools have a 1:1 student-teacher ratio to ensure that each and every child has the teacher's full attention and can learn things at his/her own speed.

You might read a lot of scientific articles and other materials regarding this issue, but you will never be able to truly understand autism without interacting with the autistics.

Perhaps you could volunteer at the Autism Welfare Foundation or other schools for autistic children; you may feel uncomfortable when you start off, but the experience is one that teaches you a lot. Controlling autistic children takes a toll on the parents and the teachers; yet, united, they can bring about immense improvements in the conditions of a child. Progress starts with small things like learning to put words together to make meaningful sentences and then move on to more complicated actions like actually interacting with others of similar age. Those of us who have worked with organisations dealing with autistic children or know autistic children, will admit that the teachers and parents go to great lengths to ready the children for the harsh society.

Respect goes out to these teachers and parents who refuse to surrender and just give it their best to make sure that these autistic children get the chance to develop properly.

Kanon, a school for autistic children set up by the Autism Welfare Foundation at Mohammadpur, arranged a four-day long fair on the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day and the seventh anniversary of the foundation, starting on the 10 April and ending on the 13 April.

The mela sold items made by the children themselves, including stuffed toys, potteries, beaded jewellery, candles etc. The children, along with their teachers, managed the stalls. In case you missed it, they'll be arranging their annual Eid Mela for Eid-ul-Fitr. Their melas are open to all.

Sources: AWF and Kanon
(contact no: 8121759)

By Sarwat Yunus


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