Autistic children no burden: PM

Putting utmost importance on raising more awareness about autism, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday said the autistic children are not a burden and urged all to ensure their due rights and respect in the society.

“We’ll have to ensure that the autistic children get their due rights and respect in the society as they belong to our families and society,” she told the inaugural session of a discussion at the Bangabandhu International Conference Center marking the 6th World Autism Awareness Day.

The Day is being observed in Bangladesh as elsewhere across the world aiming to increase awareness about the autistic people, especially children.

The United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day to highlight the need to help improve the lives of children and adults who suffer from the disorder so they can lead full and meaningful lives.

Chaired by Social Welfare Minister Enamul Haque Mostafa Shahid, the inaugural session was also addressed by PM’s Health and Social Welfare Adviser Prof Dr Syed Modasser Ali and State Minister for Social Welfare Promod Mankin as special guests.

Social Welfare Secretary Dr Ranjit Kumar Biswas gave the address of welcome at the function, organized by the Ministry of Social Welfare.

Expressing the hope that the mindset of people towards autistic and physically challenged children would change, Sheikh Hasina said: “Autistic children are not our burden; rather, they’re our precious assets and we’ll do everything - whatever is necessary.”

Mentioning that the autistic children have special talents, she said it is the duty of all to create scopes for flourishing their talents as well as to bring them in the mainstream education system.

“We’ll have to give much more attention towards facilitating sports, cultural activities and flourishing talents of the autistic and physically challenged children.”

The Prime Minister also suggested the parents of the autistic children to let their children have much more interaction with others leaving aside their shyness.

Mentioning that once there was not much awareness about the physically and mentally impaired children, she said the situation has changed a lot and her government has taken many steps through identifying their problems.

Hasina said the government has made commendable progress in establishing a robust, disparity-free education system. “We’ve prepared a new education policy which is now being implemented. All the obstacles towards learning for the people with disability along with the mainstream learners have been removed in the new education policy,”

She said that the participations of the people with disability in sports and cultural activities must be ensured for their mental and physical growth.

In this regard, she said the present government has already allocated land for the construction of a sports complex for the people with disability. The construction of the complex will begin next year. Besides, Bangladesh Shishu Academy has undertaken special programs for the children with disability.

The Prime Minister said that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University has set up the Center for Neurodevelopment and Autism in Children to cater to the needs of autistic children.

An initiative has been taken to turn the National Disability Development Foundation into a department to bring dynamism in its activities, she added.

Hasina said that her daughter, Saima Hossain Putul, is the Chairperson of National Advisory Committee, Global Autism Public Health Bangladesh. Under her initiative, a proposal was placed in the UN General Assembly to create global awareness about autism. The proposal was adopted by the assembly in December last year, which is a rare honor for Bangladesh.

She said that as a developing nation, Bangladesh has limitation of resources. “But, we don’t have scarcity of sincerity. We have been doing our best to ensure welfare of the people with disability,”

The Prime Minister said the government has taken steps to involve all the ministries to cater to the needs of the people with disability. The Social Welfare Ministry will act as the focal ministry while other ministries will provide technical and expert supports.

Apart from the Social Welfare Ministry, she said eight other ministries have already prepared work plan for the development of the people with disability. The ministries will be given budget allocation from the next financial year.

Later, Hasina exchanged greetings with the autistic children and witnessed a documentary and a cultural programme presented by them.