Kohima, April 1 (EMN): The United Nations has declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. The theme for this year is “Assistive Technologies, Active Participation.”
In an effort to learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), its challenges, and the conditions attached to it, Eastern Mirror consulted Imlibenla Mongro, Clinical Psychologist of Developmental Paediatrics at the Christian Institute of Health Science and Research (CIHSR), in Dimapur.
Child with autism
According Mongro, signs of autism in a child can be spotted as early as infancy or before the age of three. The disorder can continue to adulthood.
There are three major areas that hamper a child’s life including socialisation, communication, and restricted interests and behaviours, she said. People with autism are “unable to form warm emotional relationships with people, not even with parents. They find difficulty in speech and communication. Further, people with autism are unable to tolerate any change in their daily routine or environment,” she said.
According to Mongro, a grave misconception among the Naga people is that a child with autism means “pakala bacha.” She said: “Having autism simply means that you process the world and information differently from other people.”
Autism, she asserted, is not a case of “demon-possession” or the wage of “anyone’s sin.” It is simply a condition. She added that ASD is not an illness or a disease that you “catch” or “recover” from.
A hard challenge
“As a clinical psychologist, after assessments and interactions with the child, having to tell a family that their child has autism; and to wait for them to accept what it would mean for them, and to motivate them to seek help. That in itself is more challenging than actually beginning to help the child,” she said.
At Precious Gems School—a centre for children with developmental disabilities along with parents, run by the department of Developmental Paediatrics at the CIHSR—she said that it takes a few more sessions to help the parents get to the point of acceptance.
Absence of educational policies
“Many educational institutes are yet to come up with policies that help people with autism to cope with the demanding curriculum, hence many drop-outs can be seen,” she said.
People with autism find it difficult to cope at regular schools and colleges, Mongro said.
“They do not interact with the world like most people do,” Mongro said.
Need of the hour
The psychologist was unequivocal in her assertion that spreading awareness should be prioritised. In addition to the educational institutions, others such as ‘churches, spiritual healing places’ can play a vital role in helping the people with autism, she said.
According to Mongro, ‘more and more children are getting diagnosed with ASD, resulting in need of more people and professionals in the field.’
Parents as co-therapists
Sharing about the process of training people with autism, she said that parents are the focus of the training. “They (parents) are made the co-therapists of the child. They are taught to use certain techniques to help their child,” Mongro said.
“Assessments are done to see the severity of the condition, the person’s intelligence, how well is the person adapting at home and in the school, what are the current concerns and difficulties the person has. Based on the assessments, goals are made to help the persons pick up skills they lack,” the psychologist said.
Progress along the way
The psychologist also offered the progressive aspect of autism scenario in the state. “Many schools and parents are now slowly beginning to understand autism though we still have a long way to go,” according to her.
People are coming forward to seek help for their children. “In fact, those parents are the ones that understand the condition, accept it, and try to get help; they are the ones spreading awareness,” she said.
Things to remember
According to Mongro, there are a few things to be kept in mind when dealing people with autism.
“Avoid using the term ‘autistic child’ just as much as we do not use the term ‘cancerous child.’ Instead use the term, a child with autism,” she advised.
Not all children with autism have low intelligence. Rather, many children with autism have high intelligence, she said. Further, autism is not a phase, or an illness or something that one just “grows out of.”