GENERALLY, persons living with mental or physical disabilities find very little support from the state or society in Pakistan. This applies equally to those living with autism, a neurological condition characterised by difficulty in communication.
In fact, when it comes to autism, there is very little by way of data or awareness about the condition in this country. While prevalence rates are not available, as per some NGOs there may be up to 350,000 children with autism in Pakistan.
Today, as we observe World Autism Awareness Day, it would be a good idea to remind the state that this neurological condition needs to be placed on the national health agenda in order to lend support to families with autistic children and individuals living with the condition.
While the state has lagged behind in providing even basic health services, autism hardly even registers on the official radar as a health issue. In fact, activists say that even many doctors are not aware of or misdiagnose the condition, while most hospitals are not equipped to deal with children with autism, which can range from severe to mild.
While some parents in urban areas have formed NGOs and self-help groups, there is very little information on autism prevalence in rural and remote areas.
In fact, as some activists point out, autistic children are often believed to be ‘possessed’ by those not aware of the medical condition, which can lead to such youngsters being ridiculed or shunned.
Instead of pitying, or worse, ignoring children with autism, the state and society must make efforts to rehabilitate them and unlock their hidden potential. Work has been done in India and Bangladesh on providing support to autistic children, so it would be worthwhile to learn from these regional states.
Social media has also helped bring people together to form support networks. The health authorities should encourage support groups working for autism awareness, while they should lay down the legal and physical infrastructure that can help address this vital health concern.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2016