Schools are there to let students teach solutions, but they are filled with problems of their own. They do not have well-qualified teachers, proper infrastructure, facilities for extracurricular activities and others. But, there is also another problem at Nepali schools that many have not thought of. The problem is concerned with students with autism.
Most schools still do not have well-skilled teachers and a friendly environment for students with autism. The schools blame students’ behaviour while the health experts contradict the schools’ opinions. While there is some silver lining, they call for more efforts to make the education system inclusive.
Surendra Bajracharya, a public health officer and public administrator at Autismcare Nepal Society, says it is not the students’ problem. “Rather, it’s the teachers and schools that are unskilled to handle those students.”
He further adds, “Our schools don’t have well-trained human resources to monitor the students with autism. The schools also do not have an autism-friendly environment and infrastructure.”
The biggest mistake schools make is they teach the disabled and non-disabled with the same methodology, according to him. Students with autism are visual learners, so there must be different pedagogy for them, while the curriculum does not need changes, he adds.
Meena Dhungana, the chairperson of the Association for the Welfare of Intellectual Handicapped, says the condition is even worse in rural areas of the country.
“Since autism is still a new issue in Nepal, there are very few people who are well literate about it although the younger generation has gradually developed knowledge about it,” she says, “Although the schools have gradually started accepting students with autism and developed awareness regarding it, there is still a large space of improvement for them.”
Need for an inclusive education system
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder of variable severity that is characterised by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour.
According to the World Health Organization, one in a hundred children has autism while it is estimated that Nepal has around 300,000 people with autism. The WHO states, “Care for people with autism needs to be accompanied by actions at community and societal levels for greater accessibility, inclusivity and support.”
But, Bajracharya argues that the country lacks inclusion in education because it does not have need-based education. Most of the schools are operated by just focusing on the students who are not disabled. They have neglected the environment that is necessary for the disabled ones.
He says, “Autism can be improved if it is diagnosed timely and treated properly.” He has seen many people with autism improve their condition drastically after getting proper treatment. But, for that to happen, it needs to be diagnosed early. Bajracharya demands the country’s educational policies pay attention to this also.
Gradually, people have become literate and aware of it, and this is important, according to him.
But, in many families, the superstitious belief regarding autism still is prevalent. Instead of giving scientific treatment to them, they do something superstitious, which creates disasters in the person’s health.
In such cases, educational institutions need to intervene and seek solutions, according to him.
“But, sadly, that has not been the reality till today.”
But, schools have their own complaints. They need trained and dedicated teachers and a friendly environment, which they cannot manage immediately.
Balmaitri Pratisthan in Harisiddhi, for example, has also been enrolling students with autism for the last couple of years. Currently, the school has five students with autism. But, its founder Pabin Thapa says it has been quite challenging.
The main challenge is to study the behaviour of those students. Sometimes, they get very aggressive and even hurt themselves, says Thapa. “They also shout unnecessarily which disturbs others as well.”
For most of the time when students with autism get aggressive and show unusual activities, Thapa and his team at the school control the situation by holding them. And, they immediately call the guardians.
“Sometimes, those aggressive students even try to bite and hit us.”
A silver lining
But, here is the good news. Some schools have been accepting students with autism easily as they have developed an autism-friendly environment.
Lalitpur-based Kidzee Pre-School is one of those. Currently, the school has five students with autism below nine.
“There are a lot of challenges to handle those students, but we have managed to overcome all those hurdles,” says Muna Shrestha, founder principal at Kidzee Pre-School. “All of our teachers are well trained to treat the students with autism.”
“If any students become uncontrollable then we discontinue their classes and send them to the therapy classes,” Shrestha shares the tip to the schools that want to follow her.
Bajracharya urges all the schools wishing to admit students with autism to clearly understand the disease and start training trained human resources and create a friendly environment for those students.