WOMEN and girls with autism are more likely not to complete their primary education and are more likely to be marginalised or denied access to education, according to the United Nations.
The same women are likely to also miss out on sexual and reproductive health services and information on comprehensive sex education too because of their intellectual disability.
World Autism Awareness Day is celebrated each year on 2 April and this year’s theme was ‘Empowering women and girls with autism’.
Autism is an early developmental disorder that strongly impacts of how an individual socially engages with his or her world. The affected individual may display poor eye contact, blunted reaction to emotional events and or has difficulty understanding the emotions of others.
Young children who have autism are usually late talkers and a small percentage remain non-verbal for the rest of their lives.
In March King George VI special needs school in Bulawayo received a three day training workshop on how to handle children with autism from a Non Governmental Organistion, Whispers of Comfort.
United Kingdom based Tina Norbury who is the founder of the NGO said she decided to come to Zimbabwe to train teachers, parents, health workers, psychologists and psychiatrists as autism is still a new area that is yet to be fully explored.
“Autism is still to be fully explored in Zimbabwe so I found it fit to give the knowledge that I have to people who interact with children every day. Children in such institutions as KG VI and beyond need to be assessed and assisted by professionals,” she said.
Norbury said some psychologists said they were having challenges in referring children who they diagnose with autism for further assistance. They said as a result the children were not receiving the necessary stimulation that they should be getting from qualified therapists.
She said by training the trainers it would enable them to identify learners who may have this condition.
However, she said there was a gap in terms of research.
“There is a gap in home grown researches about this condition such that we rely on researches from the west that do not apply fully with the Zimbabwean situation. Our circumstances are very different so relying on western methods is inaccurate,” she said.
She further said when researches are done so can statistics and other important data be compiled of children with this condition.
She said failure to have such interventions would leave many with misconceptions about Autism and assuming it was witchcraft in the case of some sections of the society.
Through the foundation they are now working on translating materials developed about autism into Shona and Ndebele as affected parents and stakeholders said the information should be accessible and understandable to everyone.
A company in the UK also donated learning software to the organisation and of particular interest is the one that was designed for children with Cerebral Palsey. The software is designed to allow these children with no strength in the muscles to send commands to a computer by moving their eyes. This, she said, ensured that the child interacts with technology just like able bodied children do.
Whispers of Comfort has a technology suite in Bulawayo where there is a computer laboratory with 14 computers where under-privileged children with learning disabilities will study.
“We have a different way of teaching; we believe we should not change an autistic child but change teaching methods. We have put in tools in the form of computer software that help them to achieve different tasks,” she said.