World Autism Awareness Day (April 2) is an internationally recognized day to uphold and acknowledge the rights of people with autistic spectrum disorders including autism and Asperger syndrome. With a mission to improve human rights, World Autism Day is one of only seven official health-specific UN Days.
The United Nations has strived to create awareness about various physical and intellectual disabilities by assigning specific days to them, that are now observed worldwide. Each year, a special theme is also formulated to keep the spirit of awareness alive and this year’s theme is ‘The transition of adulthood.'
Commemorating World Autism Awareness Day, ScooNews brings to you an insight into the world of Autism from the perspective of an Early Childhood Education Expert who has worked with Autistic children on the ground level. Meet Dr Swati Popat Vats, a leading educationist, sharing with us her views on how we can make our educational institutes more autism-friendly. Excerpts are in her own words –
Autism is basically a spectrum disorder, which means every autistic child is different and cannot be treated in the same manner. When a parent tells us that the child is autistic, the first thing that we do is observe the child in order to understand his/her likes and dislikes because a majority of autistic children are extremely sensitive to high sounds or when too many people are around them. Once we have done our inspection, we share it with the parents followed by them sharing the diagnosis given by the counsellor with us. Finally, based on that, we make an individual learning plan for the special child.
For those autistic children who are not comfortable sitting next to other kids in a classroom, we ensure that they are seated a little separately so that they are not constantly touched as many of them don’t like that. In other cases, some kids are quite sound-sensitive and so, we request the teachers to specifically look after them during singing classes or any other high-volume activities. To keep them engaged, they are given quiet activities at the back of the class with a teacher who supervises them constantly.
Similar to the concept of Peer Learning, we have tried ‘Buddy.' In this, the autistic child is assigned a Buddy who he/she is comfortable with during activities (like a field trip) that demand putting kids in twos. In this way, we ensure that the child with special needs is at ease and feels protected. If a Buddy is not available, the child remains with the adult he/she is attached to.
I strongly believe that our schools can truly make things better for their students with autism if they follow an integrated methodology. This may include:
1. The school and teachers would have an individualized plan of interacting and supporting the therapies of the child.
2. The teachers would understand and incorporate the point of view of the mother/parent in regards to interacting and handling the child in various situations. Sometimes mothers/parents have developed a unique way that works best for the child.
3. Teachers would not only be trained in understanding autism but the individual case of the child with support from its therapists, etc.
4. The parents, especially the mother, would have the emotional support knowing that the child will not be only accepted in the classroom but also integrated.
5. It is the mothers who require the most support and counselling. It is an extremely high emotional state for the mother to work on educating an autistic child as she has a constant fear of ‘what if I am not there?’ When the autistic children are understood by their immediate community of friends, relatives and teachers, it becomes easier for the mother and family.
6. Mothers would also understand not to have too many performance-based expectations from their child and would not enter into irrelevant comparisons.
7. The other children in the classroom would also undergo counselling to help them understand why the child is behaving in that particular manner and how to support the child as friends. This would help them grow up to be citizens of tomorrow who accept differences in the larger society.
9. The other children would also need therapy in many cases as they too undergo depression, disconnect and worry about the child.
With this, I think it's about time we push for a change in the teacher-training programs to include education about Inclusion. Until then, the schools can train their teachers as a part of their in-service training.