`Therapists to handle autism cases in India`

Kolkata: Ahead of World Autism Awareness Day tomorrow, activists and therapists today urged the central government to include Applied Behaviour Analysis as a subject of study in India.

"This will ensure that we get more professionals working in the field. We don`t have any certified courses in the country which one can rely upon," said Smita Awasthi, the first Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) from India.

Presently, students of Applied Behaviour Analysis have to go abroad and take training on how to intervene in autism disorder cases.

It is estimated that one out of every 150 people in the country suffers from autism disorder which appears in the first three years of life, and affects the brain`s normal development of social and communication skills.

"But only a handful of professionals are there in the country to handle them. There is a supply and demand mismatch. Many therapists working in India lack complete knowledge of the subject as they don`t get complete training," said Awasthi who has been working for more than 20 years in the field of autism and developmental disabilities.

The Association for Behaviour Analysis International (ABA) which has centres in Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi has written to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to initiate steps to include Applied Behaviour Analysis as a subject of study in educational institutions.

Sunetra Dasgupta, who works as a behaviourial trainer for the Amrit Somani Memorial Centre in Kolkata, said she was left with no other option but to pursue an online course on Applied Behaviour Analysis with the University Of North Texas in USA.

"If the subject is taught at the graduation level, then more students will get interested in the field and take up further studies in the country," she said.

Dasgupta is one of the few professionals trained by ABA to work with children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities.

Autism is a lifelong neurological disorder which causes children to perceive, interpret and experience the world differently from the way most children normally do.

Poor eye contact and reality contact makes them unaware of their environment and have trouble linking words to their meanings.

Awasthi said early intervention in between the age of two and five can improve the situation.
"But due to lack of awareness among parents, overlooking by medical practitioners and the social stigma attached with the disorder most of the cases are reported later on in life when the school rejects the child," she pointed out.

Celebrating unique talents and skills of persons with autism, World Autism Awareness Day is celebrated each year on April 2 since 2007.