Every day for the last six months, Ujwala Rai (name changed on request) contacts at least three special schools to check if her son’s name has moved up on their waiting lists.
The Thane resident is also finding it difficult to handle her nine-year-old son, who is autistic.
“I don’t know how to react when he throws tantrums over small things,” she said. Rai’s son was diagnosed with autism, a developmental disorder that impairs social interaction and communication, nine months ago. “The doctor asked me to put him in a special school and begin therapy fast. But, the classrooms are full everywhere,” Rai said.
As the city observes World Autism Day on April 2, doctors concede that while increased awareness has led to more children being diagnosed with autism, the infrastructure to cater to them is lacking. Schools, doctors, and therapists catering to autistic children all have waiting lists.
Dr Vibha Krishnamurthy, founder of Ummeed - Child Development Centre at Parel, said till 10 years ago she would come across three children with autism in a month. Now, the number has risen to 5-10 a week. Dr Anahita Hegde, paediatric neurologist at Jaslok Hospital and BJ Wadia Children’s Hospital, admitted that she comes across a fresh autism case every two to three days.
The Autism Dynamic Intervention (ADI) centre, set up at Nair Hospital three years ago, can accommodate only 20 children. The centre has 60 to 80 children on its waiting list.
Dr Alka Subramanyam, assistant professor, department of psychiatry at Nair Hospital said, “We have held meetings with the doctors of Sion and KEM hospital, which are willing to begin similar special schools.”
Parents of autistic children feel that a special school can help their children. “My son (Prabhanjan, 14,) has improved a lot after the sessions at the ADI centre. He knows multiplication till 29, which I don’t. With the help of these experts someday my son may get into a normal school,” said Murari Poojari, a Titwala resident.
Chitra Iyer, president and trustee of Forum for Autism, said the city’s 40-odd special schools aren’t enough for the increasing numbers. “I get many calls from parents asking me to help them with admissions,” she said.