LAHORE -  The Autism Awareness Day was celebrated across the world on Sunday.

Unfortunately, there is no awareness in Pakistan about this third most common developmental disorder in the world. Even the doctors in Pakistan don’t know much about this disorder, while the treatment and other facilities including special schools for the children suffering from it are also rare.

“The government is also not doing much in this regard,” says Asma Ahmed, Senior Clinical Psychologist.

However, there are individuals like Rukhsana Shah who faced this disorder in her only son, and made it a mission of her life to create awareness about autism, help other such parents and fight public and private institutions for the rights of autistic children.

Rukhsana, who founded the Autism Spectrum Disorders Welfare Trust (ASDWT), said in a statement that the symptoms of the Autism include: difficulty in mixing with other children; insistence on sameness; resists changes in routine; inappropriate laughing and giggling; no fear of dangers; little or no eye contact; sustained odd play; apparent insensitivity to pain; echolalia (repeating words or phrases in place of normal language); prefers to be alone; may not want cuddling or act cuddly; spins objects; not responsive to verbal or non-verbal cues; acts as deaf; inappropriate attachment to objects; and difficulty in expressing needs.

She further said that parents, especially mothers, should be trained because ultimately a child on the spectrum spends hardly two to three hours with the therapist but otherwise he’s with his parents. So, importance should be given to parents training so that they can manage their child well, she stressed.

Rukhsana termed these students as super smart having extraordinary abilities. “Just, they have a different way of processing information. They could be highly good with music and computers,” she observed.

However, she said that currently, there were no specific services being provided to these super smart children at the government level. They are included with children having intellectual disability which is not right.

“These children are needed to be included in the mainstream schools and for that proper legislation needs to be passed so that it becomes compulsory for all schools to accommodate ASD children.”

Talking about flaws in country’s laws, Rukhsana Shah said that developmental disorders are neither mentioned in the Mental Health Ordinance 2001, nor in the National Trust for the disabled. On the other hand, the Indian National Trust Act 1999 and laws and in many other countries specifically mention “Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities”.

India is further increasing the number of recognised disabilities from seven to 19, while in Pakistan, there are only four categories in the Disability Acts of 1981, 2012 (Punjab) and 2014 (Sindh) - visual and hearing impairments, physical disabilities and mental retardation.

Asma Ahmed, senior clinical psychologist and director of ASDWT, said that autistic children’s life could be improved by training, love and care. She stressed that the government should work for development of a facility, specifically for autistic teenagers as currently no school in Lahore is taking these children after the age of 13 which is a big dilemma. “This is a transitional phase in child’s life and he’s left at home which worsens the situation for parents as well as child,” she added.

Asma said that eclectic and multi-disciplinary approach was needed for the treatment of a child suffering from ASD. “No one Therapeutic intervention will prove beneficial for the child as we need to nurture a Social-Emotional Child not a robot. Psycho education of parents and family is also crucial for the success of treatment.

“Parents have to be open-minded, involved and committed to their children with ASD,” she urged.