Challenges of Autism: Social ignorance and lack of trained experts

    It is never easy living a life as an autistic individual, it becomes more difficult when those suffering from the condition are not offered equitable support programs in their areas. Peshawar, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s capital is one among the big cities of country which lacks facilitation for autistic persons. Exact statistics of autistic children in the city is not known. Due to the non-availability of authorized data, it is difficult to presume the number of medical experts and institutions required in the province to handle autistic children. The concerned health departments and non-governmental organizations need to take serious action on the lack of support for children and adults with autism.
    Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by having deficits in social skills, communication, interaction, sensory and imagination skills which significantly affect the behavioral performance and non-verbal communication of an individual. Autistic children are likely to have impairment in communication, engaging in repetitive behaviors, behavioural abnormalities and cognitive abnormalities. Children suffering from autism may have many other strengths but they have a different way of thinking and making sense of the world.

    Lack of Awareness and Professional assistance
    Mother of a 15-year-old autistic boy shared that she has taken her son to several experts of neurology and mental health here in Peshawar but she has not been guided properly about her child that he has a life time condition and needs multidimensional interventions. The consulted doctors have simply diagnosed him with some neurological condition or mental retardation and prescribed certain medicines. There is a huge void of awareness regarding Autism, even professionals affiliated to clinical practices sometimes are unable to diagnose it rightly. We cannot consider medication as the only appropriate means of treatment for autistic children.
    There is not even a single specialized doctor in this field in the whole city to handle mental condition like autism, nor are enough expert therapists available. Trained instructors are needed to assist autistic children for their consolidated medication, therapies and learning in hospital or clinical settings. Also, there is no single hospital or clinic providing comprehensive medical and therapeutic intervention program for autistic children. Some autistic children have problem in certain physical movements e.g., walking on toes, flipping eyes, stimming, inappropriate motor coordination. To deal with this, again we lack rehab experts specialized in the field of autistic children.

    Social Attitude towards Autistic Children
    Attitude of society towards autistic children and their families is villainous. They are always at risk of being bullied. The false and discouraging labels on autistic children hinder their improvement abilities. The religious beliefs also influence the understanding on autism, parents often credit it as retribution of some evil doing rather than mental health condition of their child. Remaining under constant negative pressure of the society and kin, some parents abandoned their own autistic child and some put them in orphanage home. Therefore parents of autistic child too need counselling and frequent depression relief therapies
    Children with autism are bystanders of abusive practices. They cannot distinguish between respectable or faulty treatments directed to them nor they are capable of expressing and defending them self. Family reaction to child is also of serious concern, owing to no education about the condition of the child, parents and sibling may have sympathy with child but they do not have empathy which is actually the supreme need of autistic child. Autistic children express feelings by using temper tantrum as a tool. And again for this expression an autistic child is handled very brutally. Thus, an autistic child suffers for a fault for which he or she is not responsible.


    The other important issue that needs to be addressed is facilitation in terms of the laws and policies for special children. In the recent elections, there was not a single party whose manifesto provided agenda to protect the rights of autistic children. In foreign countries autistic children have special rights for their medication, learning and even at getting job, they are privileged with special rules and regulations at work place.
    Over the period of time, mental health organizations are showing concern about it. Horizon, a non-governmental organization in collaboration with Ibadat Hospital is establishing consolidated services program for autistic children. From the platform of this program autistic children will be provided volunteer instructors for fuse medication, therapies and learning achievements. Learning sector is also intending to launch programs for such children. Observing these efforts, private sector efforts gives a hope for the providing of appropriate services for autistic children in near future at Peshawar.

    Masooma Khan
    Masooma Khan is graduate of Peace & Conflict studies, University of Peshawar. She advocates for children mental health rights and awarness.

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