03/04/2016 …. The number of individuals with autism is on the rise and as these individuals reach adolescence and adulthood, the time has come for Goa to accept that these individuals cannot be left to live on the edge of society. We must participate and contribute in helping these individuals assimilate into workplaces and social groups by providing them basic education, equal opportunity to garner skills at any institute as well as guarantee them employment so that they can live, as far as possible, independently and with dignity. This is no easy task and requires commitment from the government, schools, colleges, training institutes and private enterprises.
When GPCC President Mr Luizinho Faleiro was the Education Minister in 2005 he had introduced a scheme for the differently abled where a differently abled child was given a sum of over Rs 12000 per year for books, stationeries, travelling allowance, escort allowance etc. This scheme has to be extended for all special children like those with autism. The Congress Party’s Flagship Scheme of Right to Education has ensured that every child has excess to free education. This has gone a long way in ensuring that children with autism have access to basic education however more needs to be done. Due to lack of scientific understanding, successive government in Goa have not given due importance to the subject of autism but with the rising number of individuals with autism, government and political parties can no longer ignore it and leave it solely in the hands of a few schools. The Directorate of Education is yet to initiate training programs for teachers and helpers at preschools, anganwadis and balwadis to recognise early signs of autism with go a long way to help persons with autism live their lives as independently as possible.
Providing psychologists and resource rooms in schools is just a first step in integrating children with autism in regular schools. There is a need of a uniform comprehensive policy that must be implemented in every school and institute which guarantees children with autism an opportunity to study along with normal students under the supervision of a teacher who is trained to support such children and create an environment where not only the child with autism develops but the normal children understand, accept and support the child with autism in their overall development.
Dr. Geraldine Dawson who is a PHd and Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks, an autism science and advocacy organization says “Because there are many kinds of autisms, as there are many kinds of cancers, we expect many environmental factors may be contributing to the increase in autism prevalence. With a significant part of the increase attributed to unknown factors, we have cast a wide net to explore the role of environmental factors, so we have funded research on prenatal factors (maternal and paternal age), diet and nutrition, challenges to the immune system, chemicals, and toxins. There is so much work to be done.” This applies to Goa as well. The Government has to initiate a research program to study the environmental factors contributing to the rise of autism in Goa. In addition, the government need to end to insurance discrimination against people with autism by requiring insurers to deliver coverage for behavioural health treatments. One speech therapist in Margao charges Rs 350 for half an hour which is out of reach of poor families. Government must ensure that individuals with autism have access to free speech therapy, behavioural therapy, physio therapy, social skills therapy etc.
One of the major challenge faced today is that government and institution have focused primarily on children with autism. As these children grow to become adolescents and adults, most institutes still recognise and treat them as children. This though process has to change. These individuals must be allowed to join colleges and training institutions to develop work skills. Government has to intervene and invest to create the right environment in these institutions, whether it is providing training to trainers, modifying the curriculum or initiating a mentorship program to help them not only in the institute but in their transition from the institute to the work place.
We must understand that the parents of these individuals will grow old and will not always be around to supervise these individuals with autism in their journey in adulthood. Many may never experience a married life and therefore it is up to the government and society to work together to help these individuals live a live with dignity. The investment may seem high but JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) research paper dated January 13, 2010 states that “There is no doubt that advances in autism research on causes and treatments will actually reduce the long term and growing cost to this country of supporting the growing population of individuals with autism”.
On World Autism Day, the Goa Pradesh Congress Committee acknowledges the dedication and commitment of all the institutes and groups in Goa who are working in the field of autism and commits to formulating and implementing a policy that will ensure a life of equality and dignity to all individuals living with autism.