No facilities to help thousands of autistic children in Bhutan

Thousands of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Bhutan not only need early diagnosis and intervention, but require trained speech therapists, behavioral therapists, and other experts

Apr 08, 2021
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Thousands of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Bhutan not only need early diagnosis and intervention, but require trained speech therapists, behavioral therapists, and other experts.  Policymakers in Bhutan also need to educate the public about ASD, a complex developmental disability caused by neurological disorder leading to a barrier in social interaction skills and communication with repetitive behavioral movement, and ensure that children with ASD and their caregivers have access to evidence-based therapies and other support in the community. 

According to a study of the Center for Diseases Control (CDC), a national public health agency of the United States, in 2020 the rate of autism is 1 autistic child for every 54 children. This latest data would mean around 13,000 plus people in Bhutan are living with some form of autism in Bhutan, without their caregivers being aware of that, according to The Bhutanese. 

Though, there are no concrete figures that confirm how many children are affected by the neurodevelopmental conditions, some NGOs have come up in the recent past in Bhutan and are trying to fill the gap, and creating awareness about this disorder. 

There are five different organizations working in this area in Bhutan. 

Phensem Parents Support Group (PPSG) is one of the first registered parent support groups in Bhutan. PPSG  was registered as a civil society organization in 2020. It works in advocating, empowering, and building the capacity of the parents and families. 

“Because of our own struggle and the challenges we faced, how we were involved with our children and what progress we saw in our own children, and how much comfort we got from each other when we came together made us feel that the support group was very necessary for parents and families,” Karma Sonam Dorji, one of the founders of PSSD and a mother of a child with ASD, was quoted by the newspaper. 

Although Bhutan has a national policy at a broader level, the action plan is not specific to this particular disability, the newspaper said. 

The main concern in the country is diagnosis as Bhutan lacks capacity and as a result ABS children and their caregivers have been seeking guidance virtually from the speech pathologist of the Australian Catholic University, the newspaper said. 

What is needed is that children and their caregivers have access to evidence-based therapies and other support in the community, the expert said. 

World Autism Awareness Day is observed on April 2 every year to take measures to raise awareness about people with ASD throughout the world. The symptoms are visible only by the age of two.

Children with this condition can display a unique pattern of behavior and severity ranging from mild to disabling. Having poor eye contact, lack of facial expression, failing to or being slow to respond to someone calling their names, retreating into his or her own world, having verbal communication, difficulty expressing emotions, having unusual tone, and being less or more sensitive to sounds and lights are some of the symptoms. 

Experts said that most people are still not aware of autism. Autism has no exact cause and it cannot be cured medically but autistic people have gone through the management of symptoms or development of skills and support, which includes behavioral, psychological, and educational therapy. 

“One has to accept that it is a lifelong disorder and one needs to seek intervention as early as possible,” said Ugyen Wangchuk, the Executive Officer of Ability Bhutan Society (ABS).  ABS is a public benefit organization founded on the recognition that persons living with moderate to severe diverse abilities.

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