Despite a significant increase in the number of children suffering from autism over the past few years, authorities are not doing enough to address the situation, allege parents.
They say their long-time demands that include a government centre and a rehabilitation programme for autistic children remain unanswered as of now.
“Even Constitutional rights are being denied to autistic children. If you see, right to education is a Constitutional right of every child, yet school here runs a three-month probation programme for children, who are sent out upon being proved unfit,” a parent told Tribune. Many parents of autistic children feel that great injustice is being done to their kids. “The Education Ministry has itself revealed that annual educational cost for a student stands in the neighbourhood of BD3,000, while the Social Development Ministry only gives BD100 a month for the treatment of an autistic child. The treatment generally costs something between BD250 and BD350 and we parents often struggle to meet medical expenses.”
There are even parents who had to rely on bank loans to treat their autistic children. These parents cite many flaws even in the diagnostic process carried out by the health department. “As of now the waiting list for autistic children is three years for treatment and six months for evaluation. After a three-month evaluation process, the child has to undergo an IQ test. The Health Ministry only provides one staff member to do the test, limiting the process to two cases a day while the number of autistic children here is increasing.
“Even if the parents see some symptoms of autism in their children, it takes about three years to get medical help. Delayed help meant the child won’t be able to attend the primary school at the right time.”
Speaking to Tribune, Sayed Zakaria, head of Bahrain Autistic Society, said, “More than 4,000 autism patients are receiving rehabilitation assistance at around 25 private centers in Bahrain, while there are no government centres for autistic children. At Alia Centre alone, around 500 children are on the waiting list.”
“Children wait for one year after the initial diagnosis to start the actual diagnosis. The diagnosis runs only for one week instead of one month, so the results tend to be inaccurate and the government only accepts the psychiatric report as a diagnosis of autism.” Urging the Social Development Ministry to increase its financial help to autistic children, he said, “Considering the existing medical and other expenses, BD100 a month is too low. The ministry should increase this at the earliest.
Around four autistic children leave rehabilitation centers every month because their parents can’t afford their expenses and the number of school classes allocated for students suffering autism are insufficient. Teachers are not specialists and the ministry does not accept all the children because of their low standards. The Ministry of Education is working its efforts, but because of the high cost, children are neglected.”
Ahlam Juma, a mother of an autistic child said her son was rejected admission three times by a public school. “Though he was accepted fourth time, he could only stay there for three months. I had to take him out because his behaviour had become bad due to wrong influences from his classmates.
The teachers weren’t competent either and they don’t know how to deal with autistic children.” Meanwhile, on the flip side, autism specialist Sakeena Kareemi said many who got specialisations in training children suffering from autism were unemployed. “The cost of specialising is around BD14, 000 and many graduates having this specialisation are sitting at home while centers are complaining of not able to accommodate more students due to unavailability of resources.”
“The government has an obligation to educate and rehabilitate people with autism as much as it is committed to the education of healthy children,” she added. It has been proved that students suffering from autism have unique set of skills, strengths and talents. Hussein Al Shehabi, father of an autistic child Ali said his son can speak five languages – Arabic, English, Spanish, Japanese and Korean.
“My son is really talented. I want him to progress using his talents and skills and emerge a true contributor to the society instead of being a citizen depending on BD100 payout.”