Autism is a lifelong disorder, so what that means is that a child that has autism does not outgrow it. You cannot waaaaaait, and after some years, there will be no trace of autism in the child.
So if you don’t wait, what will you do?
The theme for this year’s World Autism Awareness Day was Towards Self-Determination and Autonomy. To achieve this, it’s important to know and enforce the right of our children on the autism spectrum.
Did I say children? I actually mean people on the spectrum; children, adolescents, young adults and adults on the autism spectrum. As established, although autism starts at childhood, it continues throughout the lifetime of the individual.
I digress… We are talking about RIGHTS of people on the spectrum. And throughout this autism month, I’ll be sharing the different rights that they have, that should be enforced for them to achieve self-determination and autonomy. And we are starting with RIGHT TO EDUCATION.
Well, as an educator, this had to be the first topic.
All children have a right to education, at least that’s what the Nigerian Constitution and the Child’s Right Act say. In fact, do you know that the constitution clearly states that children with special needs have a right to education? Well, yes it does.
It’s one thing to have it on paper, it’s another thing to enforce it. So what are we going to do about it?
First of all, we need to acknowledge that children living with autism in Nigeria have a right to be educated, to go to school.
There are special schools dedicated to teaching and providing therapy for children with autism and related disorders across the country. We don’t have enough, but we celebrate the few people that have committed themselves to the work, providing therapy for these dear ones. There are different types of therapy; behaviour therapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, music therapy, and physical therapy are the basic therapies provided at most centers. The academics of the children are not ignored, so based on each child’s developmental level, they are taught in a way that they will understand.
For centers that have teenagers and adults on the spectrum, vocational skill training is very important. This is important for building an independent adult. I know 2 young adults that have been exposed to training in office skills, including filing, photocopying, printing, to mention a few. I have seen people on the spectrum take interest in carpentry, leather works, art works, and basket weaving.
Activities for daily living (ADL) is part of the training from children to adults, taught at each pupil’s level. While a child may be on the level of pulling down his shorts in the bathroom, an adult may need to learn to clean the bathroom. While a child’s need is to feed independently, an adult may need to learn to cook without supervision. ADL is tailored to meet the needs of each individual.
Apart from special schools, there are mainstream schools that support children with special needs, including autism. The school is expected to have a Special Educational Needs (SEN) Department, designed to meet the needs of each child with special needs in the school. Some children with autism have facilitators that stay with them in class. This is referred to as Inclusive Education or Inclusion.
Recently, I met a school owner who did not know that children with autism could go to a mainstream school. And I know that there are many other school owners or directors that do not know that children with autism can go to mainstream schools.
One major reason I advocate for inclusion in schools is because it encourages an inclusive society, by teaching neurotypical children that children with special needs are not less than them, and so they have rights just like them. When neurotypical children think that children with special needs have to be segregated, how do we convince them as adults that it is okay to work in the same company as, or employ an individual with autism?
Working in an inclusive classroom, I have seen children and teenagers support their classmates that are on the autism spectrum. Without having a sibling with autism, they have learnt to love and accommodate other children that are different from them, but desire love and support just like them.
Another important reason I encourage schools to practice inclusive education is that, having worked in special schools for children with autism, I have actively been involved in preparing children on the spectrum for mainstream education. When we realize that a child can transit to mainstream, some parents have had challenges finding mainstream schools for their children. Some schools would admit the child without providing any form of support for the child, causing the child to regress.
It is important to note that special schools are not dumping grounds for children with autism; at special schools they are taught and groomed, and often times prepared for mainstream education. It is therefore important that we encourage mainstream schools to learn what it takes to provide special education for children with autism, and provide quality education for these children.
Why should they bother, you ask?
Because children with autism have a RIGHT TO EDUCATION, not just any education, but QUALITY EDUCATION.
I have an old article on the blog (ninety-nine or one) about the need for inclusive education. Click here to read it.