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Mainstreaming autistic children a close reality

Olympia Shilpa Gerald

Autism Awareness Month highlights challenges faced by the afflicted children

— Photo: R. Ashok

Beautiful minds: Autistic children participating in an art therapy session organised by Pravaag Transitional Centre for Children with Autism in Tiruchi on Thursday

TIRUCHI: Tholkappiyan, a 10 year old, has trouble penning a simple sentence. But, he has the rare gift of replicating television visuals on paper. He was diagnosed with autism just recently.

With reports of increasing autistic diagnoses, the observance of April as Autism Awareness Month the world over calls for early detection and intervention, so that inclusive education could be made a reality for autistic children like Tholkappiyan.

“Only early intervention can facilitate an inclusive set-up. If a child is diagnosed with autism within three years, he can be mainstreamed before attaining six years with the support of parents, special educators and school teachers,” says K.Geetha, Director, Pravaag.

Exclusive early intervention centres for autistic children are a dire necessary to avoid clubbing them with mentally retarded children, she emphasised.

M.A.Aleem, Neurologist, acknowledges that an early diagnosis can make the difference, and advocated institutional deliveries and prenatal care to reduce risks of autism arising from birth disorders. Delay in infant's first cry and neck control, regular fits, difficulty in establishing eye contact or following simple commands and inability to attract the child's attention could be warning signals and require prompt investigation, Dr. Aleem explained. Special educators like R. Roseline, Project Co-ordinator, Asha Deepam, emphasize on tailor made individual education plans (IEP), “Even higher education is feasible as these children have high intelligence quotient. We need to identify the child's preference for the medium of learning- visual, auditory or multisensory.”

On the challenges in mainstreaming, K.G.Meenakshi, Correspondent, Sivananda Balalaya says, “Parents of autistic children may refuse to believe that their child has a problem. If we convince them, half the battle is won. Another challenge is countering opposition from parents of other kids, who are against inclusion, as they view autism as a disease,” she says, referring to the inclusive unit of the school as ‘a mutually beneficial experimental project'. “Though autistic children who tend to be aloof might not learn much initially, learning and playing together can help them develop social skills.”

Need for awareness, acceptance

Sr. Josephine, Principal, Holy Cross Blossoms rues that sustaining qualified teachers is a challenge as NGOs are unable to afford high salaries.

Government support can go a long way in retaining teachers, she believes. She also voices the need for increased awareness on autism and acceptance of these children.

“For that, autism must be taken up as a community issue, transcending the limited circle of children, parents and special educators,” states Dr. Geetha.

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