COIMBATORE: Even as the world observes World Autism Awareness Day on Wednesday, mainstream schools continue to reject autistic children or create an environment conducive to them. This is despite the Right to Education Act clearly stating that every child, despite any disability, has a right to education.
Naveen R, 9, who is autistic, was admitted into a private school in Ondipudur when he was five years old. His parents realised there was something wrong with him when he did not begin speaking. “We put him there for a year, but we didn’t see any improvement,” said Naveen’s mother R Sudha. “The teachers also kept complaining about him and told us indirectly to look for other options,” she says.
After three years at Shivesh Autism Centre, Sudha says she can see small improvements in Naveen. “He has started speaking and manages to make eye-contact for very short periods of time,” she says. “We want to try putting him in a main stream school after a year or so,” she says.
Sudha’s dream is a reflection of all parents of autistic children. “The only thing we wanted is for our son to be like every other child around him,” says P Rakshitha*, whose eight-year-old mildly autistic son Abhinandan* was admitted into a mainstream school two years ago.
While Abhinandan had a dream transition, lack of awareness has led to many autistic children like Naveen to opt out of mainstream schools. “Teachers would call me to school everyday and complain about my daughter not being attentive, in-disciplined, distracted and stubborn,” says P Saritha whose daughter had to be taken out of a matriculation school while she was in kindergarten. “Most schools do not know or have the infrastructure to correct issues like lack of attention, lack of eye-contact and communication issues,” says Geetha Raja, correspondent of Shivesh Autism Centre. “We usually do not recommend admitting children with hyper or hypo sensitivity issues in mainstream schools, because it’s difficult to give them that individual attention,” she says. “But even in the case of children with mild autism, it is difficult to get them admitted to mainstream schools,” says Raja.
The battle is hardly won with just procuring an admission. ” We request schools to give children at least three months time to start coping with other children socially and then sstart expecting them to cope with academics,” says Raja.
However, some experts dealing with autism say using the Right to Education Act is not practical when it comes to autistic children. Ayyaparaja, counsellor at Salem-based The Mind Research Foundation says that a normal classroom is not the perfect environment for a child with high sensory issues. “In some cases, even when a bell rings or a teacher shouts, they get hyper-agitated, hitting or biting themselves or acting out in other ways,” he says. “They feel worse and ridiculed after such incidents. They need a special environment. Hyper sensitive children need to be surrounded by soft sounds and placed in airy classrooms where they can get fresh air,” he says. “Even in a special school they can learn academics and sit for board exams or take the national open school curriculum,” he says.
Source – Times of India