Autistic children should be able to go to regular schools

Autistic children should be allowed to attend regular schools so they can learn how to interact with others, activists say.

Doctor Andreas Harry and actress Christine Hakim, who is active in campaigning for autism awareness, said Friday that it was better for autistic children to study in regular schools with children without autism than at special schools.

She said that studying in a regular school would allow autistic children to socially interact, while children who are not autistic will be able to learn more about autism and help to eliminate the stigma that surrounds it.

Andreas said many schools do not accept autistic children. Christine said rejecting a child enrolling at a school for being autistic was a violation of human rights, “because our principle is education for all,” she said.

“For children who do not have multiple syndromes, it’s possible for them to attend regular school,” she said, adding that children who had syndromes other than autism, like schizophrenia, would need different treatment.

Christine said at schools where autistic kids were part of the class, their social skills were more developed. Christine said children who were not autistic cared about their autistic friends and helped out the latter at school.

She cited the example of Global Mandiri School, which has 59 autistic students. “The students [who are not autistic] do not tease their autistic friends. They are caring and they help them out,” she said.

The award-winning actress, together with her foundation and Andreas, produced a documentary film on autistic children Love Me as I Am to commemorate world autism day today.

The 45-minute film, directed by Ricky Avenzora, will be taken on a road show and screened in schools in a bid to change people’s perceptions of autistic children. It features several autistic kids, including seven-year-old Michal Anthony, who has exceptional talents in classical piano. He is autistic and blind.

The research for the documentary began in January, Christine said. Andreas said the film was important in spreading awareness about autism in society. “There are more children born with autism than before,” he said. Andreas said that in 2008, from 1,000 births eight were born with autism. That figure is higher than 2000’s one in a thousand births.

Parents of autistic children said that some members of society perceive autistic children as having a mental disorder. “People will say, ‘Your child is crazy’,” Sri Astuti, who has a 23-year-old autistic son, said. Her son, Raditya Parasadi, did not speak until he was 10 years old. Now, he communicates with people freely and designs clothes.

Christine said that the aim of the film was to change that negative perception about autism and for society to accept people with autism and not isolate them. Christine aims to reach all members of society, including the government.

“We want to open people’s eyes. There should be no more children who are shackled, who are locked up or put away in a dorm even though their parents can look after them,” she said.

Autism is not a disease according to the medical community, Andreas said. He said it is a syndrome caused by a difference of anatomic structure in the brain. Andreas said symptoms of autism were difficulty in verbal and non-verbal communication, including difficulty in making eye-contact; unstable emotions; and having one repetitive single interest.

Andreas, whose child is autistic, said that autistic children have great potential in several fields. “My child is a doctor at 21,” he said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Features | Sat, April 02 2011

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