September 27, 2021, 4:04 am

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Autism: A Story of Awareness

Rifat Zafreen

Autism is a spectrum disorder but in most cases it was not properly comprehended due to lack of knowledge. We even do not know that most people suffering from autism look no different than any of us. Autism Spectrum Disorder covers ODD, ADD, Depression, Auditory Processing, Sensory Integration Disorder, Gifted, Developmental Delays, OCD, Tourette, Anxiety, ADHD, Specific Learning Difficulties etc.

It is a complex neuro developmental disorder that typically manifests during a child’s first three years of life. This impairs a person’s ability to communicate and establish meaningful relationships. Symptoms of autism can range from mild to moderate and severe.

However early detection and intervention can ensure significant improvement in this case. Effective programmes and management sessions focusing communication, social and cognitive skills and behavioral disorder management can help greatly in this case.

Though people were not very clear and even unaware of Autism before, now a days they are aware of this special condition and have become more attentive to any sort of milestone delays. The best part is that people are now addressing the issue early and seeking intervention and also accepting autism issue easily which was taken as curse before.

We have to know that Autism or Spectrum Disorder though ranges from mild to higher order anomaly, not all communication disorder should be labeled as autism and even all children who miss their developmental milestones are not autistic. Infact the term Autism is slightly more complex than our common understanding.

Now a days with the pace of the age, working parents usually are to stay outside home most of the time which make them unable to spend quality time with their children. This results the exposure of the children to the unattentive care givers or gadgets with zero interaction. Consequently this life style leads these children having zero interaction capability. They get delayed in comprehension, communication capability and speech formation. But this is not autism. An autistic child has many other symptoms in addition to speech delays including not being able to socialize or have  direct eye contact during any sort of communication.

There are some tests to check autism. At the age of 16 to 30 months modified checklist of Autism is there with 20 set questions to answer for the parents about their toddlers. If it is highly suggestive of autism, necessary measures and intervention are to be taken by the doctors. But if the children are in the mild or moderate spectrum, parents are trained with some early intervention tools and asked them to go for next test after the second birthday of their children. If children still show some lacking, there is another assessment called DSM-5 (a special set questionnaire) and if any children fail to meet the criteria based on the survey, they are finally diagnosed with Autism and with a treatment plan which is Autism Management.

This plan is different for every child. According to the specialists, mild to moderately autistic children can lead a normal life even with having admission to mainstream schools if appropriate and timely intervention can be assured. In the case of higher-end disorder, daily living skills are needed to be taught, obsession to be managed to make them able to live a near normal life as much as possible.

We have to remember, intervention is the only mediation. Behavioral disorders can only be managed through appropriate attention and care by the loved ones which the parents and care givers of these special children need to be aware of. Besides, other therapies could be provided to them if needed. For example some children who start to walk late they are needed to be referred to physical therapists; children with speech delays and communication inability are needed to be referred to speech therapists. Children with sensory processing disorders who react abruptly to any sort of touching or noise stimulation, could be referred to occupational therapists. Children with nutritional conditions or deficiencies are needed to be referred to have nutritional therapies.

Along with these therapies, years of counseling and positive reinforcement helps to manage autism to a certain level that it becomes a regular part of life. We all are in some way or the other within the spectrum. We all have our quirky behavior, but if we can manage life perfectly without letting idiosyncrasies hamper our daily lives, there should be no problem at all.

It is not always that if our children have speech delays, they need speech therapy, so this speech delay issue might be confusing in its entirety, because many children develop skills in their own sweet time and one child cannot be compared to another. Yet, there is still a thumb rule that pertains to cooing, crying, making gestures by the age of 3-6 months. After that by the 12th month of age, child will start babbling and by the age of 1.5-2 years, child should be able to pronounce at least two meaningful words and so on.

Parents always worry about the speech delay of their children but the receptive skills are more important than this. And these managements need to be done in time, as early as possible, to prevent the momentary impediment into becoming an irrecoverable disorder.

Nutrition is very important in case of therapy; world wide it has been noticed that slight to moderate improvement is visible in special conditions like autism when confronted with Gluten Free Casein Free (GFCF) diet. To some extent it is seen that in GFCF diet, special children become more attentive and calm. For some unknown reasons gluten and casein are not accepted by their tiny stomachs and poking of gluten and casein may cause a tiny hole through their intestines due to the presence of toxins which cannot be excreted out easily from their bodies. This ultimately affects the blood stream and so the neurotransmitters in the brain. So, the restricted diet like almond milk instead of cow’s milk, rice instead of wheat or barley helps most of the special children to be more alert and calm.

According to the source of the Department of Social Welfare, Bangladesh currently has 18 lakh people with special needs and of them around 50 thousand are with Autism.  Future of autism management looks promising in our country as government has taken many programs for the welfare of this section of people considering their economic and social safety risk. Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act 2013 and Neuro Developmental Disability Protection Trust Act 2013 along with related Rules have been compiled for their safeguard.  Besides, Bangladesh Rehabilitation Council Act 2018 has been approved in the 10th National Parliament. In the 2018-2019 fiscal year 10 lakh people with special needs have got disable allowance and 90 thousand have been awarded with disability education stipend. Besides, Ministry of Social Welfare along with 103 service and help centers are working for the welfare of this section of people country wide.

In the current Fiscal year 2020-2021, taka 1 thousand 6 hundred 20 crore in total taka 750 per person per month has been allocated as disable allowance for 18 lakh disable person country wide. This allowance is being paid through the bank account of the beneficiaries of this allowance directly under G to P system. These beneficiaries have facility to open their bank account against taka 10 only. At the same time, to support the education of the disable children and adolescent boys and girls, stipends has also been initiated by the government all over the country. Under this program in the fiscal year 2020-2021 taka 95.64 core has been allocated by the government in order to support them and stay beside them.

Schools, special education centres, disability service and help centers and Autism Resource Centers have been established by the government of support this section of people. All these initiatives have played a very important role in communication, education, social capability, speech and language of these people with special needs. In order to identify autism and provide service and train up the parents and care givers of these children with special needs, Institute of Paediatric Neurodisorder and Autism has been established in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) in Dhaka. This institute has established nationwide paediatric neurodevelopmental and autism related management, training and research. Besides, work plan 2019 for the Person with Disability Rights has also been approved.

With these initiatives of the government our negative attitude to Autistic people and children need to be changed. This will widen the path for their mental development so that they can contribute a lot to our society and can lead a happy and prosperous life. Proper education and training can also lead them contribute in the development of the country as a whole. For this, along with education and training, they need to be provided with required support and help from the family and society as well. Government and nongovernment organizations, rich and aware people also need to come forward to support them to have a safe and happy land for them especially.

If around 18 lakh people are differently able amongst 17 crore in our country, then everyone of us is related to disability and autism directly or indirectly, one way or the other. It is really an issue of concern. In this case delay is harmful, the earlier the detection and intervention, the better is the management. Possibility and potential of these children and adolescents with special needs have to be identified and taken care of properly. Proper care, education and love, warmth and affection towards them can help them be enormous possibility and potential human resource without being the burden for the society and country. They can thus be our pride that can make them and their family also proud, safe and satisfied.

Our awareness, coordinated and accumulative effort can ensure a safe and happy life to this special section of people. Mass Media can also play a very vital role in creating and increasing awareness among us. Little of our hand, shoulder and warmth can let them have a warm world from us. We have to acknowledge, they are our very special people and the children are the children from heaven and so we can not spare any of the opportunities to serve them and ensure them a safe and happy.


(PID- Project Feature)

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