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Autism is real, let’s tackle it

By Vision Reporter

Added 30th March 2011 03:00 AM

SATURDAY, April 2, is Word Autism Awareness Day. The day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007 to, among other things, raise awareness of autism at all levels in society.

SATURDAY, April 2, is Word Autism Awareness Day. The day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007 to, among other things, raise awareness of autism at all levels in society.

Fredrick Sembatya

SATURDAY, April 2, is Word Autism Awareness Day. The day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007 to, among other things, raise awareness of autism at all levels in society.

Autism is a neurological disorder that disrupts a child’s learning and socialisation. Autism is associated with children who seem self-absorbed and exhibit unusual behaviours.

While in developed countries many people are aware of the problem and have gone ahead to seek specialist help in both education and health, in Uganda, information about the disorder is still scanty, leaving the children, their parents, teachers and caretakers at a big disadvantage. We still lack the necessary equipment and skilled manpower to diagnose the disorder and handle autistic children.

For a diagnosis to be done, a child must exhibit some of the following symptoms, although the level of severity can vary greatly:

  • Qualitative impairments in social interaction: Children with autism may have great difficulty developing peer relationships appropriate to their developmental level as well as understanding. They could have difficulty in social cues or rules and participating in community or leisure activities or relating to others.

  • Qualitative impairment in communication: Children with autism may have difficulty understanding spoken language or reading “non-verbal” communications such as facial expressions or gestures. Some speak in odd or unconventional ways.

  • Restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests and activities: Children with autism may have unusual preoccupations, odd or repetitive motor mannerisms. There senses do not function well which causes some of them to have unusual reactions to sounds, sights, touch or smell.


  • Children with autism exhibit uneven development in cognitive, communications, social, adaptive and motor skills. They respond to their environment in positive and negative ways.

    Other disorders may co-exist with autism, such as seizures, mental retardation, or obsessive compulsive disorder.

    Researchers and scientists to date have not come across the cause or cure for autism.

    Here are some characteristics for autistic children: The child may insist on sameness and resist change in routine. They could have severe language deficits, difficulty in expressing needs (may use gestures or pointing instead of words), echolalia, prefer to be alone, throw tantrums, have difficulty in making friends and make little or no eye contact.

    These children usually do not respond to ordinary teaching methods. They have difficulty in odd play and at times inappropriate attachment to objects. They also have no real fear of dangers, act as if deaf even though hearing tests are in normal range.

    For academic progress an individualised education plan addressing all areas of the student’s development (academic, social, behavioural, communication skills, gross and fine motor skills) should be developed by a team of specialists and the child’s parents. The team should set goals which are reviewed frequently if necessary.

    The determination of an appropriate educational approach for children with autism must be based on the needs of each individual child. This should be in a structured education setting with appropriate support tailored to individual needs.

    Learning in autistic children is made easy if visuals are used for instruction. Peer mentoring is encouraged, areas of strength and interests of an individual are built on, positive reinforcement is provided and extra-time is allowed for the child to form a response. All the above is done in an environment without distracting noises.

    The writer is a special needs education specialist

    Autism is real, let’s tackle it

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