Five and a half year old Sadman Shakhwat Shurjo loves throwing things from his balcony as he loves the sound of objects hitting the ground.
His parents Shakhwat Amin and Iqra Ahmed tried their best to prevent him from doing so. One day, he dropped a tennis ball on a woman who was walking by their building.Stating that Shurjo is a ‘special child’, his father immediately apologised to the woman but she refused to accept the excuse.
The angry woman asked, “You think only your child is special, as if the rest of our children aren’t?”
“You or your wife certainly did a big sin in the past and that is why you gave birth to such a cursed son,” the insensible woman said.
Shakhwat Amin and Iqra Ahmed very often face this situation. But in the initial years of their journey as the parent of a differently abled child, they got frustrated.
Shakhwat Amin said, “When Shurjo was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we left no stone unturned to cure him. Neither our son nor we had anything to do with this problem, but many of our relatives and friends blamed us.”
“Since we come to know that proper education and training would unlock the potentials of our son like other children, we have been trying to give him the confidence so that he can perform day-to-day tasks without anyone’s help,” he added.The latent talent of autistic children often remains overlooked. A little care and guidance can help those explore.
“Shurjo loves mathematics. He is an expert in solving different critical mathematical equations at his early age. He also likes swimming and travelling. We take him to different tourist spots when we get time,” said Shurjo’s mother Iqra Ahmed.
Autistic children and their parents in Bangladesh need to go through harsh experiences like Shurjo and his parents as most people have vague ideas about the condition of autistic
children fueled by persistent social myths. And those who make an effort to understand their situation consider all autistic children into one category. However, in reality, their symptoms and conditions are far ranging.
In such a situation, the World Autism Awareness Day will be observed in the country today. A recent study conducted by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) has confirmed that around 2 in 1000 children have been suffering from ASD in Bangladesh. Wherein, the urban prevalence is higher than the rural areas.
Usually, symptoms of ASD appear between 18 to 36 months of age. Experts opine that the awareness and skills of primary health care service providers can play a pivotal role to ensure appropriate referral systems for exact intervention in the healthcare services for children with autism.
The quick identification and treatment of children with autism and developing awareness regarding the disorder in Bangladesh are necessary.
Head of the Pediatrics Department at Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Professor Syeda Afroza said, “The Centre for Neurodevelopment & Autism in children was established in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, which was a big development in the sector.”
“With the National Advisory Committee on Autism has been formed with Saima Wazed Putul as chairperson, and four task forces are working under her leadership, activities on Autism have gained momentum in Bangladesh,” she added.
Many voluntary social organisations like the Society for the Welfare of Autistic Children (SWAC), Autistism Welfare Foundation (AWF), PROYASH and others have been working for the betterment of autistic children and develop awareness in the society.
Founder and Chairperson of AWF Rownak Hafiz said, “Still doctors at upazila and district level hospitals are not trained to medicate the children with autism. Besides, we have lack of special educational institutions for them.”
“We must facilitate them with education and training if we want them to see self reliant,” she said adding that there is no alternative of developing awareness in the society so that everyone treats autistic children sensibly.