World Autism Day| No space in JK schools for children with autism?

Children with autism and learning disorders are ‘thrown out’ of public schools in Jammu and Kashmir despite the state’s “commitment” on inclusive education, even while health authorities fail to create early intervention infrastructure, resulting in mounting load of disabilities.
World Autism Day| No space in JK schools for children with autism?
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Children with autism and learning disorders are 'thrown out' of public schools in Jammu and Kashmir despite the state's "commitment" on inclusive education, even while health authorities fail to create early intervention infrastructure, resulting in mounting load of disabilities.

An Indian Council of Medical Research-supported survey on Autism carried out by Department of Social Work, University of Kashmir, has found Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affecting 1 in 114 children in Kashmir division.

The population based survey titled 'Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Rural and Urban Districts of Kashmir and Identifying Social Work Interventional Therapies', also states that 'most of the children with ASD are not attending regular or special schools and many of them were drop outs'.

In J&K, 70 people are employed for 22 districts as Resource Persons to address the issue of Children with Special Needs (CWSN) under Inclusive Education (IE) component of Sarva Shikhsa Abhiyan (SSA). The interventions under SSA for inclusive education are "identification, functional and formal assessment, appropriate educational placement, preparation of Individualized Educational Plan, provision of aids and appliances, teacher training, resource support, removal of architectural barriers, research, monitoring and evaluation and a special focus on girls with special needs'."

However, schools all over the state lack commitment and infrastructure to identify children with mental disorders including Autism. In fact, autistic children have often been shown the door and their parents told that their children 'need a special school'. "Clearly, the gap between goals and ground reality for autism is wide," Dr Arshid Hussain, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at GMC Srinagar said.

Education department officials reiterate that 'inclusive education program is a new one', and would take time to make a difference. 

Director School Education, Dr Shah Faesal accepted that the achievement on IE component was 'low'. 

Although 500 children with special needs have been 'identified' under CWSN, Faesal says the number would be 'misleading'. 

"There might be false positives and false negatives as our resource persons lack training and skills to indentify mental health issues," he said. 

He said School Education department is in the process of putting a 'special focus' on CWSN and a committee had already been formulated for the purpose.

In spite of the manpower in SSA, autism remains an unaddressed issue. 

 In 2013, GoI launched Early Intervention Centers in three districts for detection of many disorders, with autism being one of them. In 2014, all districts were included and District Early Intervention Centers (DEIC) announced under Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK) of National Health Mission (NHM).

However, two years on, neither the staff nor the infrastructure is in place and early detection of autism remains a far-fetched objective. 

Director NHM denied problems in DIEC establishment and said that apart from Srinagar all other DIEC were running well. "In Srinagar, we are yet to get a final decision from GMC authorities on where to locate the center."

However, sources in NHM said that the recruitment issues are creating problems in the program. "We have not been able to recruit pediatricians, psychiatrists, speech therapists and other specialist staff," they said.

On the other hand, Autism Clinic at Community Center of SMHS Hospital is running as a voluntary center. The staff at this once a week clinic is not paid but on Thursdays, the day when Child Psychiatry IPD runs at SMHS Hospital, the Autism clinic is bustling with children being involved in activities.

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