The Financial Express
Swasti Lankabangla Swasti Lankabangla

Dealing with autistic children

Dealing with autistic children

Although the incidence of children with neuro-developmental disorder has been on the rise in the country, few studies appear to have been made to identify the reason behind the phenomenon. In the absence of such studies, people are found making conjectures based on different assumptions. They are seen interpreting the problem in their own ways. It is generally termed the ailment of children belonging to the affluent segments in society. As a result, the urban middle and upper middle class families are mostly identified as units passing through the ordeals of having children with this disorder, generally called autism. Experts call these observations myths. It's true the number of autistic children have been seen as being concentrated in the cities in the recent decades; but the cases of autism among children have also been a part of villages for long. The reality is, they remain mostly undetected. On the other hand, inhibitions and fear of social stigma prompt many rural families to hide autistic children from public view. Many dismiss the autism-affected children as kids 'different' from others. The lower class people turn to quacks or faith healers which complicates the patients' condition.

That ignorance about the neuro-developmental disorder aggravates the patients' conditions has once again been highlighted on this year's World Autism Awareness Day. The day's theme came to the fore through discussions and seminars participated by expert therapists, as well as caregivers. With a view to allaying the worries and misgivings about the disorder, pageant-filled and morale-boosting events took place in the capital and elsewhere in the country. While inaugurating the 12th World Autism Awareness Day in Dhaka on April 02, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced the government plan to arrange allowances for all differently-abled children from the next budget.  Saima Hossain, a member of the Advisory Panel of Mental Health of WHO, has emphasised specialised knowledge and skills of the caregivers for autistic children. Autism experts worldwide have laid special emphasis on the active role of caregivers in properly dealing with autistic patients. As the treatment of this disorder continues to embrace techniques more advanced than even in the immediate past, the highly specialised nature of this ailment comes to the fore. Unlike many others, autism treatment chiefly requires the caregivers, especially the parents and others in a family, to be trained. They need to be imparted the special knowledge about this neuro-development disorder. Besides, they also need to be skilled. Autism researchers and experts have, thus, lately stressed a special type of care-giving for the patients. First of all, they include an empathetic attitude towards autistic children. What these patients, ranging from infants to teenagers to adult youths, need badly are speech, occupational and behavioural therapies. Moreover, experts put prime importance on special training of the caregivers. The young patients ought to be taught how to adapt to surroundings, as well as respond to the outside world and communicate with others in their own ways.

Although there are scores of specialised schools in the urban areas, the basic treatment for autism ought to be centred at one's home. There are few alternatives to the care provided by the parents and close relatives. The support of specialised centres also cannot be undermined. With expert researches continuing around the world, renewed emphasis is laid on the need for autistic-friendly environment. Many homes do not have an environment ideal for autistic children. On the other hand, allegations are rife about the mushrooming of ill-equipped therapy centres in the large cities. They are also highly expensive. In the midst of many prejudices and misconceptions about the now-common disorder, chaotic treatment situation is feared to aggravate the scenario.    

Autism is no life-threatening illness. But due to the presence of autistic patients, the normal chores of a family go haywire. By hiring trained attendants and nurses, the affluent people can tackle the situation. It's the low-income families, with autistic children, who suffer miserably. Like in the rural areas, the tendency to avoid admitting the presence of autistic teenagers, especially girls, in many families is also not uncommon in the cities. This situation warrants the removal of inhibitions about autism, and also increase in the awareness at family level. The autistic children belong to the group of those who are 'differently abled'. Lots of them prove to be extraordinarily talented. According to experts, the brain functions of autistic patients are different from normal children. Generally they excel in activities related to the arts, especially painting. This is said to be a pointer to the fact that their brain composition and psychological make-up differ greatly from that of the normal kids. It also keeps them apart from kids having conventional psychological disorders.

Blurred speech, abnormal physical movement in cases and mood swings generally characterise autistic patients. Considering these features, autism emerges as not so much as a disease as a great hindrance to normal life of the patients and their family members. In order to help them in becoming capable of socialising and be a part of the communities which they belong to, the supportive attitude from the family is considered most vital. A recent survey quotes 79 per cent of mothers as having received supportive attitude from the family members, while 45 per cent have spoken of bitter experiences. The study also says one out of every four mothers of autistic children suffers from depression. Owing to lack of sufficient knowledge and awareness about the neuro-developmental disorder among people, the illness increasingly becomes a great social problem. In addition, due to many remedial drawbacks, autistic patients, as well as their families, continue to suffer. It is reassuring that autism has received a wide national-level focus in Bangladesh. In fact, the nation can ill afford to downplay the silent scourge, which involves the country's future citizens.


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