What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder. The symptoms of ASD vary significantly from one child to another. ASD is diagnosed based on behaviour that falls onto a wide spectrum. The most common symptoms of ASD are problems in social interaction, delayed or limited language development, and repetitive behavioural patterns. Severity of social communication impairment varies from reduced eye contact to lack of response to social interactions. On the other hand, restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour in ASD may include inflexibility of behaviour, extreme difficulty coping with change, or other restricted/repetitive behaviours markedly interfere with functioning in all spheres.
These neurological manifestations with severe developmental disability results in creating problems with thinking, feeling, language and interaction with others. This lifelong development disability limits social, educational, occupational and other important demands in every stage of life.
Having a child with Autism the impact on various aspects of family lives are affected including housekeeping, finances, emotional and mental health of parents, marital relationships, physical health of family members, limiting the response to the needs of other children within the family, poor sibling relationships, relationships with extended family, friends and neighbours and in recreation and leisure activities.
Furthermore, children with ASD and their families face numerous challenges in regards to school admission and continued education. The lack of awareness on ASD, lack of resources, discourage school administration from accepting admission of children with ASD into schools in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, caregivers are in variably faced with countless barriers in regards to stigmatization, lack of employment opportunities and safety concerns.
Independence, financial stability and Security are matters of concern apart from psycho social wellbeing when they reach adulthood. As this is a lifelong disorder currently requiring lifelong commitment by the parents and possibly the rest of the family including siblings, mental, social and financial support is an area to be addressed in the Sri Lankan context which the government of Sri Lanka, corporate world and other charitable organizations and volunteers can contribute would be able to join in uplifting the affected families.
Challenges faced at national level in Sri Lanka
- Awareness of Autism among the population in Sri Lanka.
- Organized Early Detection and referral systems.
- Centers for early intervention.
- Educational Modifications. – For instance, children with special needs are educated in segregated, integrated or inclusive classrooms. Only a limited number of schools accept children with ASD to an inclusive classroom setting. For most children with ASD require the social exposure of typically developing peers to improve their social skills. Unfortunately, many children are not accepted into the mainstream classroom due to the lack of awareness and lack of professional intervention given to schools on how to manage children with ASD within a classroom setting.
- Vocational Training.
- Employment Opportunities.