New Delhi: Six-year-old Tanvi Roy flaps her hands continuously for hours, while Ankit Prakash, 17, doesn`t go to the toilet but eases himself in the kitchen or drawing room every night. These children are not mentally retarded but suffer from autism, a neuro-development disorder.
It is not just about Tanvi or Ankit, according to Autism Society of India (ASI). About one in 80 people are known to suffer from Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), characterised as social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviour.
Early diagnosis and social acceptance of children suffering from the neurological disorder are necessary for their welfare, say experts.
"Autism needs a multi-disciplinary approach. There are only a few organisations and schools that cater to children with autism in India, most of which are NGOs and parent-run centres," ASI secretary Lambodar Ray said.
"But there are thousands of parents outside its fold, craving to help their child but with services simply beyond their reach," he added.
He said the need of the hour is to train more care-providers.
Doctors and experts say although they are slow learners they can be prepared for the future if guided properly.
Autism, a developmental disability that remains for the entire life and affects the brain`s functions, appears in the first three years of birth.
"The first signs usually appear before a child is three years old. Those with autism usually find social interaction difficult and have problems with verbal and non-verbal communication," Niti Pall, a child psychiatrist, said.
According to Sameer Malhotra, head of mental health at Max Healthcare, children with the condition avoid eye contact, have difficulty in speech, repeat an activity many times and do not react when they are hurt or don`t communicate.
"Their condition needs to be detected early. The doctors can check their IQ levels, as certain ASD kids are exponentially good in arts, music and mathematics," Malhotra told IANS.
He said that such children should avoid food that is high in sugar like chocolates and candy as sugar items make them hyperactive.
"My advice to parents is to surround them with unconditional love, patience and understanding. They should remember that these individuals are one among us," Malhotra added.
Vandana Prakash, mother of 17-year-old Ankit who was detected with autism at the age of five, said children with such a condition should not be considered a burden.
"They are definitely not the laughing stock of society and should not be treated as burden or mentally retarded," Vandana Prakash said.
"Such persons may be slow learners, but they are highly talented. Patience and proper training from tender age is necessary," she added.
Vandana Prakash also wanted more training centres for such children.
"To train people with autism is a tough and huge challenge, but people with AKD can do well in academics. But a lot more needs to be done," said Shayama Chona, president of Tamana special school and former principal of Delhi Public School at R.K.Puram.
There are 400 autistic children in Tamana.
Chona also said parents too need to know more about the condition.
"Scores of parents are not aware. When they see that their kids are not communicating or have odd behaviour they term them as troublesome or stupid, but we make them understand what autism is," Chona said.
Ray said autism should be included in the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) Act 1995 so that these children can get jobs when they grow up.
Also, he wanted the Rehabilitation Council of India`s diploma course on the condition, which is currently offered in a few cities, to be available throughout the country. He said the course will help in producing more care-givers.
"Many parents and NGOs are showing through their work that a person with autism can integrate into society with structured education, perceptive teachers and constant motivation," Ray added.
"There is a need to change the mindset and attitude towards autism cases. We need to deal with them in a sensitive way," he added.