WORLD AUTISM AWARENESS DAY 2 APRIL 2023
Emeritus Professor - Hemamali Perera
President, Sri Lanka Association for Child Development
RECOGNISE AND PROMOTE THEIR POTENTIAL
World Autism Awareness Day is celebrated on 2 April. The theme for this year has not been agreed upon yet internationally. From SLACD, let’s choose the theme “Recognize and Promote their Potential”. Autism is a spectrum disorder (ASD), which also means that there are high-functioning and low-functioning children and many in between. While the prevalence of autism has rapidly increased over the years, with a current prevalence of 1 in 36, it is also evident that children in large numbers are “high functioning”. Thus, the perception and expectations of children with ASD have changed. They are seen as children with potential with regard to their cognitive profiles and skills. Many enter higher education and productive employment. The world-renowned Professor Temple Grandin, herself a person with autism says, “if you were to get rid of all the autism genetics, there will be no more Silicon Valley”. Greater awareness, early recognition, and the advancement of evidence-based intervention, paired with inclusive quality education, tailored vocational training, and employment opportunities may have helped to unearth this potential. While attending to social and communication disabilities, more and more research focuses on the strengths of autism. Many who would have otherwise gone unrecognized and unutilized in potential are now given an opportunity to display their skills in the workforce. Questions are even asked now whether autism is simply a neurodiversity rather than a deficit.
All this optimism comes mainly from developed countries although they too have many more challenges to negotiate. The nature of ASD is the same anywhere in the world. In Sri Lanka, there is a clear message here to all responsible for the well-being and development of children with ASD. Health and Education services, parents, and the community all have a role to play in providing every possible support to help in reaching their potential. Developing quality resources needed at both institutional and community levels is crucial. Parents and teachers with insight into a child’s patterns of thinking and behavior and equipped with skills to manage are invaluable. Risks such as school dropout in teenage years due to persistent social challenges should be recognized and remedied. For that to happen, traditional thinking and practices should undergo drastic changes. If ASD is the identity and not the stigma, these children and families can really begin to live.
Sri Lanka Association for Child Development (SLACD) is the only multidisciplinary professional organization in Sri Lanka with a singular focus on promoting child development. The dedicated multidisciplinary teams of SLACD have continuously involved themselves in promoting early recognition and intervention. It will continue to be a strong activist and the voice for children with autism and their families for many more years to come.