World Autism Awareness Day is on April 2. Most of us have some friend or relative of ours who is dealing with autistic children.
WHAT IS AUTISM?
Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder characterized by deficits in social and language communication, as well as repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. Children and adults with autism spectrum disorder have a wide range of abilities. Some people cannot speak at all and many have delayed or limited verbal communication. Some are greatly impaired in their cognitive thinking while others are extremely gifted.
According to the World Health Organization, one in 10 people suffer from developmental disabilities across the globe. As per 2011 Census of India, there are 7,862,921 children with disability below the 19 year age group, among which 595,089 have intellectual disability. The study, conducted by International Clinical Epidemiology Network Trust (INCLEN), stated that one in 66 children were autistic in India. Despite being an alarming issue, autism awareness is severely lacking though its incidence has increased over the last decade.
In an exclusive interview with Dr. Mukta Vasal, chief child and adolescent psychologist and Co-founder at mom’s belief, India Today Education learned about the severity of the problem and how do parents of children suffering from the ailment deal with the situation.
WHAT SORT OF SPECIALISED EDUCATION DO AUTISTIC CHILDREN GET IN INDIA?
Dr. Mukta Vasal: Special needs education and such departments in schools have come into existence. However, these have still not reached districts, states, cities as well as individuals who have a need but no support or reach to such services. Quality of individuals in such centres and the training required to carry out these services is also lacking.
The special need individual requires Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for each month which help plan for the child his or her skill development areas for the specific month. These are specifically designed by Moms Belief to accommodate the learning styles typically associated with the developmental disorders. Training sessions for the parents are conducted by their child development experts, who also monitor the progress of each child (with the inputs of the parent) to maximize the impact of the learning plan. Regular monitoring by the psychologists allows them to keep the education program precisely tailored to the needs of the child. Many of these educational plans rely on a well-researched curriculum based on the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis. These help in creating unique educational plans suiting the needs for each child.
HOW SHOULD TEACHERS TREAT SUCH STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEED?
Dr. Mukta Vasal:
- The special need children demand more love, care, patience and undivided attention
- They require specialized instructional strategies in a structured environment that supports and enhances their learning potential
- It is important to remember special need students are not incapacitated or unable to learn; rather, they need differentiated instruction tailored to their distinctive learning abilities
- The teachers need to consider special need children as a pool of talent, given plenty of opportunities they will surely outshine
- The main challenge for teachers is to identify the strengths and work on them continuously, also to structure lessons that lead to positive results to keep them motivated, giving immediate appreciation and reinforcement for their good work, hence creating a well-rounded learning atmosphere
- There is an imperative need towards having reduced restrictive environment for autistic / special children in schools in order to have special need children being taught with the other children in the same classrooms. Mainstreaming of these children is the need of the hour
WHY PARENTS DEALING WITH AUTISTIC CHILDREN NEED PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAINING:
“Parents of autistic children undergo huge amount of stress and unanticipated situations, often leading to emotional meltdowns. Receiving a diagnosis of autism can be devastating to some parents. These parents have greater time demands which are associated with participation in various therapies. Reaching out to professional therapists or jointly collaborating with child psychologists to develop their special need children can make an immense positive impact on them leading to an affirmative approach towards life. Speaking to other parents with special need children and joining parent support groups can be a great support system for them,” Dr. Mukta Vasal said.
HOW PARENTS SHOULD APPROACH AUTISTIC CHILDREN:
“A simple parenting approach must be used – to make children feel loved and safe at all times, being harsh may lead to an emotionally traumatic experience for the child.
Parenting techniques stressing on achieving cures and attainment of non-realistic goals is not recommended. Publicly rejecting or reprimanding special children in any way has a very harmful impact on the child,” Dr. Vasal said.
HOW SHOULD THE PARENTS TREAT THEIR AUTISTIC CHILDREN SO THAT THEIR OTHER CHILDREN DON’T FEEL JEALOUS AND MAINTAIN SIBLING LOVE?
Dr. Mukta Vasal:
- Parents must love and cherish each child as unique and understand that each child has a different set of abilities and personality, whether the child is typical or special needs
- A special need child would require more time and attention and one way of balancing time between siblings may be to involve both children in activities that may be meant for either one
- Having the second child a part of the activity fosters trust and a sense of collaboration and friendship with the parent as well as sibling
- It is important to make time for both and ensure that they are involved as siblings and can in this way also help and learn from each other
- The impact of this is that each child fosters trust in the sibling and just as the typical child would better understand the special needs of the other; so would the special child develop social-emotional skills while dealing with his/her typical need sibling
LATEST PRODUCTS IN THE MARKET THAT HELP IN BRINGING UP AUTISTIC CHILDREN
Customized training tools such as calming tools, communicative sensory tools and games are some of the examples. of the latest products available in the market.
IMPACT OF STEPS TAKEN BY THE GOVERNMENT FOR AUTISTIC CHILDREN:
The government has taken various steps in the direction, however, there is a long way to go. As recent as 2012 and 2016 the certification and training for special needs area has been formalized.
It is important for the government to understand that as the number of people impacted with such issues is huge, there needs to be public and private sector involvement to create support for such children and individuals.
Also, there needs to be special health insurance for differently-abled, special focus on autistic children and their physiotherapy and behavioral therapy, along with regularly organized autism awareness campaigns. While initiatives in various forms have been started towards this, there is a long way to go. As recent as 2012 and 2016 has the certification and training for special needs area been formalized. It is important for the government to understand that as the number of people impacted with such issues is huge, there needs to be public and private sector involvement to create support for such children and individuals.
WHAT ARE THE GLOBAL TRENDS TO TREAT AUTISM? CAN ONLINE PLATFORMS EMPOWER PARENTS?
“The current global trend is empowering parents of autistic children, equipping them with the right resources, training them to treat autism and develop child skills at home.
Online platforms aid the parents to view IEP’s, evaluate and monitor their child’s progress reports, receive resources and customized training tools delivered at home which helps them in reinforcing the education plan hence improving their child’s performance.
The online platform however does not work in isolation. As part of moms belief home guided program, there is an assigned child psychologist for each parent who takes them through the program each month with the aim of empowering the parent to get trained as per needs of their child.
The parent-interaction through telephonic training helps the parent to discuss their concerns and goals for their child too. Regular monitoring and progress tracking is done during the month with the parent. The online aspect thus helps to have everything created and ready to view, discuss and plan the goals for the parent.
Parents approach must be one of complete dedication towards their child’s development and enhancement of skills. The parent must be committed to work with the child psychologist and devote time to their child to make best use of the training. Empowering the parent to be the child’s therapist is crucial and would generate skill development for their child at a better pace.
Connecting with the psychologists helps the parent to better understand their child and insight into their child’s diagnosis makes them understand the child’s needs and abilities better.” Dr. Vasal said.