Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Awareness is the Key in the Fight Against Autism


Autism is a developmental disorder in young children. The amount of ignorance is very high. Here in steps Merry Barua with her Action for Autism. Established in 1991, the all-India national parent organisation on autism tries to sensitise teachers as well parents on the needs of autistic children. For years autism was ignored in our country, or scoffed at thinking it afflicted only the rich. However, such people had to eat their words, because the disorder can afflict anyone. Though, genetic links can’t be denied, but autism can easily do away with that.

 “The symptoms of autism are present in the child from birth, but they become apparent between 18 months to 3 years—a time when social development begins to occur and language skills are learnt. “Diagnosing autism is difficult”, mentions Dr Raghuram Mallaiah, neonatolgoist at Fortis La Femme hospital, New Delhi. Not only, is it a complex condition to diagnose, but also there exists low awareness levels on this disorder.

 “Incidence of autism in developed countries where there is better awareness of the condition is said to be about 1-2/1000 children. These numbers include milder forms of autism too,” says Dr. Mallaiah.



  • Lack of appropriate eye gaze
  • Lack of warm, joyful expressions
  • Lack of sharing interest or enjoyment
  • Lack of response to name
  • Lack of showing gestures
  • Lack of coordination of nonverbal communication 
  • Unusual prosody (little variation in pitch, odd intonation, irregular rhythm, unusual voice quality)
  • Repetitive movements with objects or with posturing of body, arms, hands, or fingers


Barua’s personal experience with autism has motivated her to provide safety net to many parents in the form of Action against Autism. Established in 1991, she has encouraged several parents to enjoy their children irrespective of autism. Autism is not a disability, but rather a different way of being. The disability impairs a person’s social, communicative and abstract thinking skills, yet often heightens sensory perception. This means that an autistic person is trapped in a bubble world, which has no relation to the world around. Unless trained how to express their needs, violence or intense behaviour becomes an autistic’s communicative tool.


Action for Autism (AFA) offers several types of clinical services geared towards families who can attend programmes on a regular basis, and for those who for whatever reason, can only visit the centre on a fortnightly basis or less – for example, those who live in far-flung areas of Delhi or in other parts of the country. All programmes start with an initial assessment of the child. Based on the child’s strengths, behaviours, learning patterns, and training and the teaching methods best suited to him / her, a plan is made keeping in mind the child’s current needs as well as the parents’ immediate concerns.



Learning by rote offers little help to such gifted children. The preferred medium of teaching is based on the principles of applied behaviour analysis with a strong focus on structured teaching and experiential learning

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