Addressing children with autism

The Ministry of Social Welfare of Bangladesh estimated that about 1.4 million people, and one in every 500 children, in the country have ASD. However, the number of diagnosed individuals with autism are not many, partially due to autism related stigma and lack of knowledge by both parents and health professionals.

Every challenged child has different needs and there is no one-size-fits-all intervention. Photo: TTU / icddr,b

Often children and adults with autism, as well as other developmental disabilities, are mistakenly given antipsychotic drugs by psychiatrists. Misdiagnosis and improper treatment only compound the suffering faced by these individuals, and prevent special needs children from receiving a properly caring environment. 

In order to improve therapeutic practices and raise awareness around the care of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), icddr,b’s training unit has recently teamed up with faith Bangladesh- a non-profit organisation based in Bangladesh.

Shawly Rahman, a Bangladeshi homemaker and mother of an autistic child, is very keen to learn about the phenomenon of sensory integration. Sensory integration is a fundamental neurological process that underlies our subjective experience of the world. The term refers to the integration of multiple sensory modalities by the brain – sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste as well as the lesser-known inner senses of proprioception (body awareness) and the vestibular senses (balance, gravity).

Parents learn to improve dysfunctional sensory integration in challenged children. Photo: TTU / icddr,b

Many disabilities, including autism, result in dysfunctional sensory integration and this can cause a lot of suffering and distress for those affected. Shawly’s son Farhan Akber, a toddler, requires special care in this area. Determined to provide her son with the best care, Shawly has enrolled herself in a workshop on methods and activities to treat and improve dysfunctional sensory integration in disabled children.

At the workshop Shawly Rahman listened intently while Manish Samnani, a certified sensory integration therapist from India, was explaining how teaching a child to zip and unzip a chain could eventually help them to hold a pencil steadily. The workshop also had a live demonstration on how to interact with special needs children properly to optimise their recovery and alleviate their symptoms.

Live demonstration for parents to interact with special-needs children. Photo: TTU / icddr,b

Shawly commended the initiative to hold this workshop and said, “Bangladeshi parents lack the necessary knowledge and understanding of interventions to deal with autistic children. Every challenged child has different needs and there is no one size fits all intervention. The agony that we go through while raising our challenged child is colossal, our increased knowledge of therapeutic interventions would definitely improve the condition of the suffering child and the environment surrounding him.”

The partnership of icddr,b’s training unit with faith Bangladesh has resulted in three workshops targeting relevant stakeholders in the treatment of autism, including clinical and language therapists, teachers of special needs schools, psychologists, occupational therapists and parents like Shawly. The concluding workshop on “Managing children with Behavioural Problems at Home Applying Sensory Integration” was held on February 9, 2017. The other two workshops, “Training on sensory processing and sensory integration: understanding and using the perspective” and “Sensory Integration Intervention (SII) for Children with Developmental Disabilities”, were held during February 5-6, 2017 and February 7-8, 2017, respectively.

Representatives from several government agencies attended the concluding workshop, Nilufer Ahmed Karim, Chairperson of faith Bangladesh, chaired the session while Dr Aftab Uddin, head of the technical training unit at icddr,b, moderated it. Dr Aftab said, “We have a common misperception that differently able children are our burden. In reality we lack understanding of how to unlock their potential and turn them into our resource.”

Shawly hopes icddr,b will continue to organise training and workshops in this area and support thousands of parents who lack the required knowledge and practice to properly care for children with autism and other developmental disabilities.