Children with autism spectrum – a developmental disorder than can range from mild to extreme - need special education that the current system in the country is far too overwhelmed to provide.
Many schools have mushroomed all over the city run on falsely advertised “miraculous cures” and social integration methods.
Nurul Islam, director of the Society for the Welfare of the Intellectually Disabled, Bangladesh (SWID) said that according to government policy one teacher should be allocated for seven autistic children. But because of the lack of available teachers, one teacher is assigned to 10-25 children.
Swid Laboratory Model Intellectually Disabled and Autism School has 20 teachers for 200 autistic children.
Dr Ashrafi Ahmed, program director and deputy secretary at Disability Detection survey program under the Ministry of Social Welfare, said: “Autism schools are popping up like mushrooms. We do not know how many private autism schools are there in the country. There are 62 government run autism schools. We are trying to formulate a policy to look over the activities of the private schools better.”
Teachers from SWID, Smiling Children School, Bangladesh Therapy and Rehabilitation Foundation all agreed that they need proper training before interacting with and teaching children with autism.
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Child Protection Specialist, Unicef, Jamila Akter said: “There should be more outreach activities to break the stigma and misconception about autism, and in a broader sense about disabilities. Capacity of service providers and changing their perception is also important and the government should increase investment to improve quality of education and accessibility.”
Rajib Ahsan Munna, whose autistic son Anuj Aroni Golpo attends a special school, complained that most of the teachers in these schools lack proper training.
“They do not know how to deal with children with special needs and sometimes are openly annoyed by their behaviour.”
Children with autism generally have problems with communicating, have differing sensory needs, toilet training problems, and need routine. They also have problems eating, are obsessive and are prone to meltdowns. All these needs must be addressed by teachers who are aware of this behaviour and are trained to help the child instead of dealing with them as they do with other children.
Dr Shaheen Akhter, professor of Pediatrics and program director at the Institute of Paediatric Neurodisorder and Autism (IPNA), Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), told the Dhaka Tribune that in a recent survey that is yet to be published they found the case of autism in two per thousand children in all 30 districts.
Anjum Hussain’s autistic son Abdullah is being home-schooled because a regular school had no programs for special needs children. “Even though the government-run schools charge less than Tk1000 a month, the private ones charge anything from Tk10,000 to Tk20,000. They pay their teachers very little and then the children are sent to be tutored at these teachers’ homes and that costs around Tk10,000 a month and upwards,” she said.
Managing Director of Bangladesh Therapy and Rehabilitation Foundation Fida Al Shams said they are acutely underfunded. “The teachers are underpaid and have to work as tutors later. A lot of these schools have no therapist or psychologists. Our schools do not have psychologists because we cannot afford them. A lot of parents stop sending their autistic children to school and end up just going to a psychologist.”