Lending a hand for help

Staff Correspondent
Thursday, December 7th, 2017


How SWAC is like an oasis in the desert for those suffering from autism in Bangladesh

 

Bangladesh currently has a handful of autism schools, which caters to the needs of those suffering from autism. But this wasn’t the case 20 years back when the parents used to find it difficult to enroll their autistic children to a specialized school.

 

That forced a group of dedicated parents of children with autism to open up a school themselves, which now takes care of more than a hundred austisticchildren.

 

Foreground

 

In February, 2000 they decided to open and operate by their own a school to cater to the special needs under the initiative they named – Society for the Welfare of Autistic Children (SWAC).SWAC was founded with the aim of educating, training and rehabilitating children, adolescents and adults with autism to develop and perform to their fullest potential, making them independent and active members of the society, enabling them to integrate and contribute to the mainstream of national development and establishing their rights as citizens of this country.

 

A pioneer in the field of autism schools in Bangladesh, they have been operating for the last seventeen years, and its success stories have spread through words of mouth. SWAC’s long waiting list of candidates is a testament to itscredibility.

 

Their success stories deserve kudos in raising awareness on the issue of autism in Bangladesh. Since 2005 they have been organising national-level workshops and campaigns in Chittagong, Bogra, Khulna, Pabna and other places of the country. Besides the Special Education and Training Centre at Dhaka, SWAC is also operating a small school called the “Centre for Inspiration” for children with autism and other disabilities from underprivileged and indigenous community of Rangamati Hill District, Rangamati. Currently 15 students are receiving special education, food, transportation, school uniform, medical allowance etc without any fees.Three of their students have successfully completed Primary Education Certificate recently.

 

SWAC organized the first international conference on autism in Bangladesh, which was the “3rd South Asian Regional Conference on Autism” held in January, 2009. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s daughter SaimaWazedPutul, who championed the cause of autism, also first came to know about the SWAC’s running the country’s first school for autistic children, from that conference. It was since then that the issue of autism expanded among the mass people.

 

Current overview

 

“SWAC started out in 2000 with only two staff members and one student,” said MdMofijul Islam, deputy director at SWAC.  “But now we have 115 students and 66 staff members. Our teachers to students ratio in classroom is 1:2, but for nurturing special skills, that becomes 1:1 – rendering personalised care and treatment for every child so that no one is left out and rightly taken care of for proper development.”

 

SWAC’s teachers used to receive training from foreign trainers, such as Finnish educators and other experts. Now they have become experienced trainers themselves and conduct training sessions for aspirant teachers in this field. “Our youngest teacher has an experience of working 5 years with autistic children, and our oldest teachers having 17 years of hands-on teaching experience,” Mofijul added.

 

The age group of SWAC’s students ranges from 3 to 34. The school provides intensive care and has diagnosis, assessment, counseling, schooling, etc, to meet the needs of every child. Individual Education Plan (IEP) is the main implementation system and has a student-teacher ratio of 2:1. The children classified with severe syndromes are given special care until they recover from their symptoms and step towards mainstream status.

 

“Every child is unique,” says Mofijul adding that ‘We work on skill development as well as behavioral problems, and inspire the singular development of each child. A certain child may be good at painting. We let these children flourish in areas besides regular education. Ten percent of such children usually possess extraordinary skills. The rest need support and treatment to realize theirs. If autistic children are given the right care and treatment, they can excel compared to children who don’t have autism because they have an element of ingenuity in them.”

 

From founder to saviour

 

Sabina Hossain, mother of a 33-yr autistic son, serves SWAC as its Director (Education and Training). With the help of SWAC’s teachers, her son, along with many others, have managed to improve upon their communication and other skills, ensuring that they are not lost in transition. “We have both short term and long-term goals,” said Sabina explaining that, “the short-term goals include things like helping those children who cannot tie their shoelaces properly, or button their shirts, etc. Long-term goals are life oriented plans that will allow them to do these everyday tasks as people normally would. These plans have helped many children recover.”

 

She also let in on the downside of running such schools. Paying teacher’s fees, paying rent for an entire building, the utility bills and other expenses all add up to a substantial figure every year. The turnover is not enough to sustain the school but SWAC frequently receives private donations and corporate funding, which helps to sustain their dream.

 

“We must work harder for their (the autistic children) inclusive future,” Sabina commented, “As every autistic child, with the proper supervision and care, is bound to develop at some point. All our students love the way things are run here at SWAC. Even during weekends they force their parents to bring them here, forcing us to set individual and domestic schedules for each of those students so that they can emulate what they do at their school even at their houses, ensuring that they do not remain inactive when they are outside our premises. If they become inactive, they experience severe reactions, often resorting to violent outbursts and reactions.”

 

SWAC also lets them engage in hospitality skills, such as plating and serving lunch, receiving bills and handing out spare changes, working on social interactive skills – all so that they can outsource those in public places, such as fairs and exhibitions. “As long as their lives are laid out in structures and visuals, they can learn to develop their cognitive and social abilities. Structures help them to make routines of what they should do and visuals help them to understand better.”

 

Future Plans

 

As much as they would love to take more and more students, high rent and lack of space is hindering that aspiration for expansion. Nevertheless they have applied for a permanent land in Savar, over a 1.4 bigha stretch of plot. The land has been registered, along with boundaries being marked. The rest of the process will be completed subject to corporate funding and other donations.

 

With all that has been said, it is evident that special children really are gifted. This refutes the stereotypical notion of them being helpless. But they do become helpless when they do not receive the proper attention they deserve. Although our country has made significant progress, much more needs to be done so that specially-enabled children can lead respectful live they deserve. With endeavours like SWAC, more and more entities will be created in the aid of autistic children. They will, surely, draw inspiration from SWAC.

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