From 20 lakh cases in 2003, the number of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) cases in the country has risen to about 1.36 crore at present. Yet, ASD that refers to a wide range of developmental disorders has not entered the mainstream conversation in our society as much as it ought to.
One of the reasons being that in a majority of cases, ASDs are clubbed with mental retardation, largely due to lack of awareness, and have a certain social stigma attached to them.
“There is a clear-cut diagnosis these days available for ASDs known as CARS — childhood autistic rating scale, but what happens is people have limited exposure and lack of adequate training even among experts who have inadequate practical exposure which results in misdiagnosis,” said Dr Pulkit Sharma, consultant clinical psychologist and psychoanalytical therapist, VIMHANS.
“As the child grows he or she is labeled as mentally retarded and gets secluded. The crucial time that should have been utilized to start treatment gets lost,” said Dr Sharma.
In most cases, it is the inhibitions on part of the parents of the child to bring him or her out into the normal social structure that deteriorates the situation. There are cases of children having never made it out of their homes for years. Most parents are not aware that this is a condition that can dramatically improve with the right therapy and intervention and the child can lead a functional life.
In fact, most schools these days have special educators and integrated classrooms to help these children blend in. Though it is a challenging task, yet schools feel the results are phenomenal that is evident in the progressive growth and development of children with special needs.
The integrated department is a team of professionally well-trained special educators, speech therapist, occupational therapist and specialists who follow an individual education programme wherein the child is treated on case-to-case basis.
“In our school each special student has an Individual Educational Plan, which is discussed and pursued with meticulous planning and execution of assignments related to social, academic and co-curricular activities. Some students with special needs follow the regular curriculum, some modified and some functional,” said Sudha Goyal, principal, Scottish High International School, Gurgaon.
“The children show enormous strength in extra-curricular activities and so these subjects are equally emphasized. Besides skill development, their strengths are tapped and enhanced to showcase their talents,” added Goyal.
Therapies are vital elements for children with special needs and hence speech, occupational, sensory therapies contribute to the development of these students. Quiz: How can you spot an autistic child?
“The condition can be diagnosed as early as at age of two years and with right kind of therapies, in up to 40% of the cases there has been a near-normal recovery. Unfortunately, most kids don’t get diagnosed before the age of 4.5 years,” says Boston-based Vincent Strully, CEO and Founder The New England Center for Children- a leader in autism research and education.
Strully, who has 41 years of experience working with children and adults with autism and related disorders, is in the Capital to start a programme in India, in collaboration with Special Child Trust, for training teachers in the latest approaches available to mainstream children with ASDs.
“These children can learn a lot provided they are taught by well-trained people. We have a well-developed curriculum — a web-based software that can be downloaded on phones or iPads, that develops with the child. It has an archive based on latest research on the topic,” said Strully.
Special Child Trust will also start an Autism Centre for Excellence to cater to the affected children from pre-school to early adulthood. “We are looking at collaborating with an Indian university for a Master’s degree on the subject. Through education, research and training we can transform the lives of these children,” said Sameer Nayar, founding trustee of the trust.