Autism and developmental disorders should be identified as early as possible in someone’s life. There are a variable amount of causes for a child to be born with one. People in India have a rather backwards approach when viewing them, much like with the case of disability.
Roughly 23 out of every 10,000 children in India have autism, according to the first rigorous estimate of the country’s autism prevalence. This rate, about 0.23%, is far less than the 1.47% that’s in the United States. This survey, however, received a lot of criticism for its simplistic view towards autism and using strict criteria for its identification. The sample was taken in the metropolis of Kolkata and relied on a series of questionnaires filled by parents and teachers. The estimate also doesn’t take into account that 20% of children in Kolkata did not attend school. This means that a lot of misinformation and misidentification may have hindered the result.
Autism requires a better form of understanding to be identified. According to the CDC, “Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be difficult because there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorder. Doctors look at the child’s developmental history and behaviour to make a diagnosis. ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable.”
The most common early signs of autism include avoiding eye contact, having little interest in other children or caretakers, a limited display of language (for example, having fewer words than peers or difficulty with use of words for communication), or getting upset by minor changes in routine. It is important to understand that autism can lead to major gaps in learning social and intellectual skills if not treated. To ensure help at an early stage, society needs two evolve in three ways: identification, help/teaching aids and normalisation.
The Indian culture is intelligence-oriented and any form of developmental disorders are treated as something which makes the child ‘less capable’ of being intelligent. This is simply not true. Intelligence itself is a complicated topic and cannot be quantified. Indian parents and guardians need to be more educated about the facts of developmental disorders and how autism is something that the child is born with.
Parents and guardians also need to realise that society is responsible for ensuring that they do not face any extra barriers. This requires parents to be more liberal when holding institutions accountable for fostering an environment of learning, interacting, and enjoying for all the students. Acknowledging the disorder is the first step towards complete societal integration.
This leads to the second step. The most important aspect here is ensuring that the educational institutes are capable of providing adequate learning for the students. Some institutes provide Individualized Education Program (IEP) to the students with special needs to ensure that their education is not at all hindered by the limitations of standardised schooling.
A major threat to learning is the institutionalisation of education.
Providing every student with a similar method of learning, and not catering to those with specific needs, creates an unfair curve which will affect the morale of the students. It will worsen the condition for students with developmental and social disabilities.
Lastly, autism needs to be completely normalised within society. Allowing the media and other outlets to represent these conditions in a more accurate, sensitive, and informative way can lead to a more normalised view towards autism. Aamir Khan’s film, Taare Zameen Par allowed audiences to view an emotional and interesting film which thoroughly examined and addressed the societal problems with dyslexia, and showed an idealistic example of understanding and supporting children with developmental disorders.
About the author: This article is written by Sparsh Sharma who is a programme coordinator at Javed Abidi Foundation (JAF) and student of Indraprastha University (IPU). You can reach him for more information on Twitter.