Mumbai, Apr 2: A march was organised here by Mumbai-based NGO, Society of Parents of Children with Autistic Disorders (SOPAN) to mark World Autism Awareness Day.
The incurable disability that affects three to six children per thousand globally, and fastest growing serious developmental disability in the world has joined the selected list of diseases like diabetes, cancer and AIDS for which, UN has designated April 2 to observe as World Autism Awareness Day.
Though the exact causes are still shrouded in medical mystery, genetics is considered the most significant cause of the disorder and account for more than 90 per cent of cases with the first signs manifesting itself within the first two years of a person's life.
Symptoms of the disability range from severe impairments in social interaction, communication, restricted interests to repetitive and compulsive behaviour that prevent the person from ever having a fulfilling personal or social life.
The less impaired individuals who manage to have a social life are invariably handicapped by their disorder that are beyond their control.
Predictably, no surveys have been undertaken in India, hence taking international statistics into account, one in 150 children has a good chance of suffering from the disorder, which would make Autism the most prevalent of all disabilities. The worst affected are often children suffering from Autism and their parents who often have to incur huge expenses to rehabilitate and face prejudices and social pressures.
''Their needs are very different from those who are mentally-challenged. For parents bringing up a child with Autism is a lonely and difficult journey,'' SOPAN President Dr Rubina Lal explained.
''Most special schools are not able to cater the needs of such children and private therapies are very expensive and drain the family finances,'' Dr Rubina said.
The situation for Autistic children in rural areas is even grimer due to lack of knowledge, training and services to meet their needs.
''Help for Autistic childern and patients are far and few in India. Lack of funds, awareness and trained proffessionals make the task difficult. There are only 13 NGOs, all in the metros including five in Mumbai that cater specifically to autistic patients,'' one of the members of SOPAN Hutoxi Baltiwala pointed out.
The Government of India has belatedly passed the National Trust Act in 1999, which recognises Autism as a disability. The provisions therein apply to persons with Autism. The National Trust, a statutory body has also floated schemes for empowerment and rehabilitation of persons with Autism. The Inclusive education policy (2005) provides for inclusion of children with Autism in mainstream schools.
''Rehabilitating people with disabilities is a social responsibility. The community must participate in this by accepting people with Autism as people first. It can provide support to parents, provide jobs to adults with Autism, and contribute financially towards creation and sustenance of Autism services,'' Dr Lal added.