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Autism numbers rise in India

Apr 05, 2012

Due to lack of basic equipment and improper diagnosis of autism, the disorder is growing in India which now has over 10 million cases. Experts say early detection of this incurable disease can help a child lead his full potential but many medical professionals are unable to detect the disorder.

India is home to about 10 million people with autism and the disability has shown an increase over the last few years. According to statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every 88 children today is born with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) against a ratio of one in 110 few years back.

On the World Autism Day, that falls on April 2, the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Mukul Wasnik said that there are many myths and misconceptions in the Indian society concerning the development disability. He said: "It is necessary that we create awareness on the condition through various forms of mass media."

According to CDC, autistic people are “a group of people with developmental disabilities characterised by impairments in social interaction and communication and by restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviour”. The disease is found to be four times more prevalent in males than females.

Health experts believe that since the first signs usually appear before a child is three years old, early detection of this incurable disease can help a child lead his full potential. In India these symptoms are usually ignored by parents and are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed by many medical professionals, which is the reason for the higher numbers in the country.

Agreeing to this, the Program Coordinator at the National Centre for Autism, Katha said: “The primary thing that an autistic child needs is a proper diagnosis, which is almost non-existent in India. Government hospitals lack basic equipment for the early detection of the disability.”

Surveys predict that children born to older parents or those born prematurely are at a slightly higher risk of developing ASD. In some cases it has also been found that harmful drugs taken by the mother during pregnancy exposes the child to this disability. But scientist and researchers are still attempting to recognise the main genetic cause of this disorder.

Right to Education also for autism

Even though the Indian government flagship project, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a vehicle for the Right to Education Act, and the National Trust Act mandate that children suffering from autism too have equal and compulsory right to education, these children usually face discrimination and disparity by school authorities and even students.

Experts believe that despite India having many special schools for disables, the facilities required by autistic children are still insufficient. Since they find it difficult to express themselves socially, often it is seen that teachers are not confident enough of teaching them. These children need trained therapists and educators who make them feel comfortable and teach them more of social skills rather than bookish knowledge.

Parents have proven to be the biggest educators and role models for these children. Health specialists say that parents must help the children realise their real potential and encourage them to fulfill their dreams.

Disparity still remains

Even as the law provide for facilities of transport, vocational education, banking, housing and other benefits for people and children living with autism, they face harassment, end up becoming the laughing stock of the society and are often discriminated. There have been stray cases of private airlines offloading passengers with autism.

Though India is one of the first signatories to the UN Convention on Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities, lack of awareness hinders mainstreaming of autistic people by the society. Acceptance by the society is all what these people need today, says Katha.

People often mistake this development disability as a mental disorder. People suffering from autism may be slow learners but as Albert Einstein has proven, they do have brilliant minds.

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