According to a United States of America, Center for Diseases Control (CDC) study in 2020 the rate of autism is 1 autistic child for every 54 children. This latest data would mean around 13,000 plus people in Bhutan living with some form of austism in Bhutan and also thousands of autistic children in Bhutan with many parents not even aware.
World Autism Awareness Day is an internationally recognized day on 2nd April every year basically to take measures to raise awareness about people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) throughout the world.
Autism is a complex developmental disability caused by neurological disorder leading to a barrier in social interaction skills and communication with repetitive behavioral movement. It is significantly more common in boys than in girls though the exact reason for that remains unclear.
Symptoms are usually seen by the age of 2. Children with this condition can display a unique pattern of behavior and severity ranging from mild to disabling.
Having poor eye contact, lack of facial expression, failing to or being slow to respond to someone calling their names, retreating into his or her own world, having verbal communication, difficulty expressing emotions, having unusual tone and being less or more sensitive to sounds and lights are some of the symptoms.
Because Autism is a spectrum Disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The challenges faced are not only by the person with the disorder but also the family members and the organizations.
Bhutan observed the day since 2013.
There are five different organizations working for the Disability fraternity.
Phensem Parents Support Group (PPSG) is one of the first registered parents support group in Bhutan. PPSG was registered as a Civil Society Organization in 2020.Phensem works in advocating, empowering and building the capacity of the parents and families.
“Because of our own struggle and the challenges we faced, how we were involved with our children and what progress we saw in our own children and how much of comfort from each other when we came together made us felt that the support group was very necessary for parents and families”, said Karma Sonam Dorji one of the founder of PSSD and a mother of a child with ASD.
Most people are still not aware of the term ‘autism’. Autism has no exact cause and it cannot be cured medically but autistic people have gone through the management of symptoms or development of skills and support, which includes behavioral, psychological, and educational therapy.
One has to accept that it is a lifelong disorder and seek for intervention as early as possible says Ugyen Wangchuk, the Executive Officer of Ability Bhutan Society (ABS).
While they have national policy at broader level, the action plan from the Ministry was not specific to this particular disability since disability has different needs.
The main concern in the country as of today is diagnosis as Bhutan lacks capacity and as a result ABS has been seeking guidance virtually from the speech pathologist of the Australian Catholic University.
Another major issue is that apart from early diagnosis there is a need for early intervention and Bhutan lacks trained speech therapists, behavioral therapists and other experts.
Meanwhile Memorial Chorten and Chang Lam among others were lit up on friday in the blue colour, the colour of autism, and messages were shared on the billboard to recognize the fourteenth annual world Autism Awareness Day aiming to foster understanding and acceptance for those with autism.
The blue light is an annual event initiated by Ability Bhutan Society.