Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay graced the inaugural session of International Conference on Autism and Neuro-developmental Disorders that was recently held in Thimphu. The overall theme was of developing effective and sustainable multi-sectoral programs for individuals, families and communities living with ASD and other neuro-developmental disorders.
Her Majesty also launched the Guideline for Differently Abled Friendly Construction developed by the ministry of works and human settlement.
PM Sheikh Hasina, said she feelt encouraged to see so many great clinicians, researchers and policy makers convened together in Thimphu for the betterment of individuals and families with Autism Spectrum Disease (ASD) and Neuro Developmental Disorders (NDDs). “No matter where on the spectrum they are, they all deserve to live in dignity and be loved by people around them,” she said.
She also said that worldwide people and families with ASD are often subject to stigma, discrimination and human rights violations. “Very recently, two UN human rights experts called for an end to this discrimination and said that persons with ASD should be embraced, celebrated and respected as part of human diversity,” she added.
The Bangladeshi PM said that it is necessary for countries to support their most vulnerable citizens and governments should make policies and programs to ensure that no individual is neglected. “They deserve to have the opportunity to participate in their country’s economic growth. It is our responsibility to ensure that adequate social and medical support is available for these individuals in all aspects of their lives, from education to employment,” she said. “Let us commit ourselves to recognizing their multi-faceted talents beyond the diagnosis of the disorder and enable them to live life with dignity and hope in our inclusive society.”
Globally, one in 160 children born would have this Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders (NDDs) according to the World Health Organisation. Autism and NDDs cannot be detected easily and there is no significant symptom, which can show if a person is affected.
Health Secretary Ugyen Dophu said that the symptoms are not known easily and it has to be done by a professional pediatric and currently, there is only one pediatric physiotherapist in the country at JDWNRH, Thimphu.
In 2016, JDWNRH detected 25 people with Autism and NDDs with different types of diagnosis, which includes ASD, ADHA, global development delay, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities and cerebral palsy.
In 2015, 38 were diagnosed. That year 1060 school students in various schools were assessed of which 39 percent were impaired with cognition, 24 percent with motor, 24 percent with behavior and 8 percent with seizure.
“The problem with the autistic and NDDs is social stigma, lack of awareness and diverse symptoms,” the health secretary said.
He said there is a need to have an act in place whereby all children are given their own rights. “When the law recognizes them then they will get education, training, VTI, employment and health service,” the secretary said.
Some of the challenges are lack of awareness among among parents, among the health care providers and in the community on autism and NDDs. He said many initiatives and programs are coming out from health, education and labor to help such children with NDDs.
The health ministry has the Community Base Rehabilitation (CBR) program where they will be educating both parents and affected child on this issue. In addition, they also have a program called Integrated Management and Neonate Childhood Illness (IMNI) and Pediatric Physiotherapy Services.
As of now, education ministry has enrolled 478 students studying in different schools. Bhutan has two special schools, school for visually Impaired, Khaling and Drugyel and has 12 schools with SEN program.
Similarly, the labor ministry will create job opportunities for such people. They will be self-employed and government will give them a chance to graduate and get employed.
Apart from government organizations there are many CSOs such as ABS, Disabled Persons Association of Bhutan (DPAB) and Draktsho Vocational Training center that support those who are autistic and disabled.