Children with autism spectrum disorder are now learning social communication and interaction skills along with their regular studies, thanks to the awareness among parents.
To facilitate the special needs of children with autism, many public and private schools and therapy centres have been established in the city.
As autistic children mingle with other children in the school it helps develop and nurture their overall mental potential.
What do autistic children learn at schools?
This correspondent visited a private school run by Bangladesh Therapy and Rehabilitation Foundation (BTRF) on Ring Road in Mohammadpur, where she found that a group of autistic children were engaged in various learning exercises with their teachers. There was a teacher for each child to facilitate the learning.
Seven-year-old Adib Hasan was learning the names of flowers and fruits through a special method, while 13-year-old Saad was learning cycling. In one corner, some of the children were learning colours.
Adib was admitted here at the end of the last year when his parents noticed deficiencies in his mental, and that he was unable to speak. Within a few months of coming to the school he showed significant development.
“Adib is now doing much better after enrolling in this school,” said his mother Farzana Akhtar Ratna.
When Adib was 6 his mother noticed he did not make eye contact, and did not respond when he was called.
“He used to play on his own. He was hyperactive all the time, stayed awake throughout the night and only slept for one or two hours. I was so worried,” said Ratna.
Then she took Adib to a doctor and he was diagnosed with autism.
His parents admitted him to Smiling Children Special School. They also kept a tutor at home. But there was no sign of improvement.
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Later Adib enrolled in the school run by BTRF.
“Adib can speak a little now. He also enrolled in a normal school in January,” Ratna said.
Along with Adib, nine-year-old Kashfi Shafik Saad and 12-year-old Tajbir Rahman Pranto are now much better in terms of their physical and mental development after enrolling in BTRF.
Kashfi’s mother Samina Rahman said when her son was 4 when he was admitted to a school.
“He could not do anything. He even did not respond if anybody him called by his name.
“He could not eat on his own and could not hold a pencil. He has improved a lot after enrolling here,” Samina said.
However, Kashfi has to go to a therapy centre for speech therapy, said his mother.
Tazin Mahmud, 23, has become an energetic dancer and also good with recitations.
He has been taking dancing lessons at BTC Vocational Training Centre under Swid Laboratory Model Intellectually disabled and Autistic School in the city’s Eskaton Garden since 2005.
He has already bagged numerous awards, including two from India, for his performances.
Tazin’s father Samsuddin Majumder said: “I was very worried about the future of my son. But after enrolling in this school he started to show changes for the better.
“He gets invited to perform at the function where the prime minister is in attendance on Autism Awareness Day every year,” Samsuddin said.
Run by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Swid Bangladesh has 522 branches across the country.
Fazlul Karim Rokoni, headmaster of Swid Laboratory Model Intellectually disabled and Autistic School, in Eskaton, said there are about 200 students in this branch – some of them are intellectually challenged while some others have Down syndrome. There are also 35 autistic students.
“Special methods are applied to teach them since they are not like normal children. They are not sick; they live in their own world. This [autism] is not totally curable but [if trained properly] they can do better.
“So far, 15-20 autistic children returned home after some improvements. Some of them have got married while some others are engaged in family business,” the headmaster said.
Learning facilities at home
Autistic children are learning many techniques not only at schools but also at homes with the cooperation of their parents.
Ten-year-old Abdullah, who lives in Dhanmondi, was playing with many toys in his room. His mother Anjum Hossain uses the toys as teaching tools.
“Abdullah has improved a lot. I created an environment in his room that looked like a classroom. I also received training to teach him properly,” said Anjum.
Anuj Aroni Golpo, 17, learns under her father’s guidance after school. She attends Smiling Children School in Aftabnagar.
Dr Ashrafi Ahmed, deputy secretary and program director of Disability Detection survey Program under Ministry of Social Welfare, said there are a total of 44,803 autistic people – 27,025 of them are men and 17,715 are women and 63 are transgender people. However, there is no survey on the number of children.
Dr Shaheen Akhter, director of the Institute of Paediatric Neurodisorder and Autism (IPNA) at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said: “Autism is not a disease. There is a common misconception that autism is a form of intellectual disability or insanity, but that is not the case; autistic people must not be considered insane. They are naïve and like to live in their own worlds. Most autistic children have immense potential to achieve success in life – especially in art. We have to create an environment where they can come out of their shell and socialize with other people. Fortunately, many parents of autistic children are becoming aware of this. If proper care is given starting from an early age, autistic people can mostly lead a normal adult life.”