Despite the strides made in introducing universal access to education and healthcare, there still remain gaps when it comes to autism and related disorders, writes Getaneh Abera (firstname.lastname@example.org), an education specialist at Nehemiah Autism Centre.
Universal education cannot be realised without the inclusion of all marginalised groups, particularly children with disabilities. Inclusive quality education is crucial to creating interconnected societies based on values of social justice, and equity of opportunities and freedom.
The Sustainable Development Goals made an explicit commitment to children with disabilities, and other disadvantaged groups, to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
Although Ethiopia is one of the countries that signed the treaties for increased Sustainable Development commitment, access to inclusive education is far from satisfactory, especially for children with autism and related disorders. So far, there are only two centres that are striving to change the lives of children with autism and share the burden of their families.
Joy Autism Center is one of the first centres to address this issue. It has been providing intervention for the last 16 years. The other is Nehemiah Autism Center [where the author of this article is employed as an education specialist], established seven years ago.
Beside providing educational intervention, both centres are working on raising awareness. As a result, many parents who were in the dark about what ails their children now have a better awareness as do members of society.
Nonetheless, it is still hard to have to wait a long time to get therapeutic services as a result of these centres being packed. Currently, few private schools are receiving and allowing children with autism or related disorders. But they can be costly and hard given public transportation is usually out of the question.
Although it has not been as significant, the education system has tried to be inclusive of children with physical disabilities. But autism and related disorders have remained significantly unaddressed even relatively. As a result, they did not get the necessary consideration in the education system. Part of this lies in the belief that it is not too wide spread a problem.
Nonetheless, research has shown that autism can be found in one person out of 100. Autism has no cure other than early intervention. The older children with this disorder get, the more difficult they become to manage. The need to consider autism in the education system as a priority is not an option but a must.
There are two opportunities on the table for children with autism and related disorders and their desperate families. The first one is the new education roadmap that has been put up for public discussion. With the right intervention, this can lead to long-term benefits. Another is the Diaspora Trust Fund, which can be utilised to create access for education in the rural areas and for children with disabilities. This can be a short-term solution.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child mandated that every child has the right to education. Additionally, there are articles that state that the goal of education is to fully develop every aspect of a child’s personality and ability, suggesting that children must have the right to fully participate in all aspects of their education.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities underlines the right for “full and effective participation and inclusion in society.”
Another article focuses on education and decrees children should not be excluded from education on the grounds of disability. Ethiopia is one of the countries that signed the treaties. Therefore, an occasion where a child is excluded from education due to a mental illness should be seen as a breach of human rights.
There are also economic rationales for inclusion.
As the saying goes, “disability is not inability.”
There are a number of situations where people with disabilities have shown excellent performances in various fields with the right education and training. Studies also revealed that there are cases where disability could be both a cause and consequence of poverty, because they have a cyclical relationship.
This relationship is not non-existent in Ethiopia. The enrollment capacity of the autism centres and the private schools is currently low, so most children are staying at home. Unless children with autism get early intervention, they will be entirely dependent on others for their entire lives.
If they go to school, they need a personal assistant that consistently follows them up until they get the required skills to succeed within the system. This is an additional cost for most parents, as are the interventions their children will require.
These costs in the United States amounted to an estimated quarter of a trillion dollars in 2015, according to Autism Speaks. The added costs of autism-related healthcare and education average more than 17,000 dollars a child annually.
Due to these economic factors, many parents, especially mothers, are forced to quit their jobs and stay at home to look after their children. It is not only the children who are dependent; most parents are economically reliant on others in the family.
The authorities need to take note of this problem with the view of making the education and health sectors inclusive of children with mental illnesses. It is an investment that will have positive socio-economic benefits.
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