Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. It is a developmental disability that remains with a person throughout his or her life, affecting the brain functions. A person suffering from autism bears difficulty in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication and exhibits repetitive behaviors. About one percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder.
Declared by the United Nations as World Autism Awareness Day, 2nd April stands as a reminder to bring the condition of autism to light and help spread the word on how crucial its diagnosis is. Internationally recognized and dedicated to autism, this day seeks to highlight and become the voice of children and adults who are undiagnosed, misunderstood or looking for help.
ASD can be related with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues. The most obvious symptoms of autism appears to emerge between the age of 2 and 3. It is a general tendency of children with ASD to fail to respond to their names and often avoid eye contact with other people. Due to their condition, these children tend to speak later than other children and face difficulty in interpreting what others are thinking or feeling as they are unable to comprehend social clues. Due to their condition, all ASD patients show no signs of empathy. About 20-30% of children suffering from this condition develop epilepsy by the time they reach adulthood. But, in spite of all this, some people with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art.
India also has a high number of people suffering from ASD. There is a tremendous lack of awareness and misunderstanding about autism among the medical professionals, who at times either misdiagnose or under diagnose the condition. Moreover, there are a multitude of people with autism are left undiagnosed and hence do not receive the care they need. One of the major difficulties faced by parents of children with autism in India is obtaining an accurate diagnosis.
Fortunately, the process of diagnosis of autism in India is improving slowly and the doctors are becoming aware of the condition. Although there is no medical cure for ASD at present, there are therapies and behavioural interventions that have proven as a fix for specific symptoms and can bring about substantial improvement. It is important for children with autism to receive training in functional living skills at the earliest possible age. The schools should be able provide assistance through facilitation of services that address their special needs.
In India, there are not enough services to meet the needs of children suffering from autism. As much as there is a need to give proper care to them while they are growing up, there is an urgent need to set up residence facilities and centers to take care of their needs when they grow old. This is important because many will require considerable support once their loved ones are no longer there to look after them.
As far as their livelihood is concerned, there are adults who are working a full-time corporate jobs while some are self-employed. There are many more who take up jobs which are tailored to their strengths. Their number might be small but they are still striving to fit into the society. It’s a known fact that people suffering from ASD display heightened abilities in pattern recognition and logical reasoning, as well as a greater attention to detail. This can be a boon for employers but it is estimated that more than 80 per cent of adults with autism in the world are unemployed. If we are able to address issues of shortage of vocational training, inadequate support with job placement and continuous discrimination, the world can gain hard-working and highly skilled workers.
A great example and effort to connect people suffering from autism with mainstream, SAP, a German technology giant recently launched a global collaboration with Specialisterne to employ people with autism in roles best suited for their skills such as software testing. Specialisterne is an internationally recognized company which works towards harnessing the talent of autistic people and providing them employment in technology oriented jobs. The first wing of the project is a pilot program launched in SAP Labs India called Project Prayas which focuses on education, employability, and engagement of people with autism.
If people with autism are to have an opportunity to reach their maximum potential and have dignified future, the community will have to continue to work together as a team and advocate for the rights of this often marginalized and vulnerable section in the society.
By – Shantanu Negi
Media Team – Fiinovation