The Misunderstood World of Autism

The ninth annual World Autism Awareness Day is today, April 2, 2017, it is being celebrated with the theme “Toward Autonomy and Self-Determination”. Every year, autism organizations around the world celebrate the day with different fundraising and awareness-raising events. For many years autism has been celebrated the same way in Addis Abeba by the Joy Centre, the first centre in educating and training children with autism.

The Nehemiah Autism Centre, is the second in providing similar services. However, according to a research conducted by Nehemiah Autism Centre, the awareness raised did not bring the required change in peoples’ understanding of autism. Children with autism are still considered as a curse or victim of an evil spirit, useless and unworthy of investment. They are often abused, chained or confined viciously when they cannot be managed.

It is, therefore, important to increase public awareness of what autism entails, of autistic people’s rights, and their difficulties in adapting to an inflexible society that does not provide for their special and specific needs. At a governmental level, action has to be urged towards more inclusive policies for people with disabilities in areas as broad as healthcare, education, employment, ageing and life-long needs. It is absolutely essential that these policies are adopted and that children and older people with autism are not denied their fundamental right to live full, worthwhile lives, within their unique possibilities.

According to Autism Speaks an organization well known for research on autism, Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive (stereotype) behaviours. It is not diagnosable at birth because the patterns of behaviour do not emerge until the child is between a year and a half and three years old. Sometimes there is a period of apparently normal development and then, between this age, the child appears to withdraw and lose skills. Children with autism may fail to respond to their names and often avoid looking at people; these are the most evident characteristic of autism. Although children with autism usually appear to be physically normal and have good muscle control, many engage in odd repetitive motions, like rocking and hair twirling, or self-injurious behaviour such as biting or banging their heads. These often arise from communication difficulties or problems in understanding their social environment and the social meaning of behaviour or painful sensitivity to sensory stimulation. Some people with autism also tend to repeat certain actions over and over again. Any minor change to their routine may be particularly upsetting for them. Children with autism rarely engage in pretend play. Although the percentage is low there are also people with high functioning autism which have unique and special abilities – referred to as ‘savant’ skills.

Without education, the life of persons with autism and their families is hard. Public Authorities must be particularly mindful of the impact that a lack of educational provision will have on groups with heightened vulnerabilities as well as on the other persons affected including, especially, their families, on whom the heaviest burden falls in the event of institutional shortcomings.

Equal enrollment and access for all to the education systems, regardless of the nature or severity of disability, should be guaranteed. The school system and/or schools should not be allowed to refuse education to pupils with severe learning impairments or complex dependency needs on the grounds of the nature or severity of their disability. They should not be refused because they are deemed “uneducable” or because of lack of resources to deal with their special needs.

Autism must be identified to begin education and help children with autism to be with others. Skilled diagnosis and on-going specialised assessment should be implemented in partnership with parents and health professionals in order to determine appropriate educational programmes. Individual education programmes must be available as early as possible in order to support the development of the person, their social inclusion and participation in the community.

Teachers of pupils with autism must have skills. Equal opportunities to develop the individual potential in all types and level of education, regardless of the nature or severity of disability, should be ensured for pupils with ASD by means of research and sound educational strategies. Minimum standards should be defined in terms of teaching qualifications for staff employed in educational settings for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

By Getaneh Abera
Getaneh Abera is a Education Specialist at the Nehemiah Autism Centre. He can be reached at

Published on Apr 01,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 882]



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