By NOUMAN KHALIL
Despite cutting edge technology and the most modern facilities, Peel-based parents feel there’s still a long way to go when it comes to the fight against autism.
Robert and Leila Selvarajah, parents of a teenage daughter with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), say time has come for the government to further invest in research to find ways how to overcome autism.
There has been a considerable jump in number of children with autism spectrum disorder, shows a Centre for Disease Control and Prevention study.
According to the study, one in every 150 children was diagnosed with autism in the year 2002. But in a matter of few years, the numbers spiked up to one in 110 in 2006 and then one in 88 in 2008.
Though ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups, it is five times more common among boys than girls.
“This is something very serious that we shouldn’t ignore,” said Robert Selvarajah, father of Asha Selvarajah, a 15-year-old autistic student of Brampton’s Parkholme School. “The issue is how to stop it and how to utilize resources in terms of long term cure, support and making our society a healthy and better place.”
He admitted things would have been different if he was in Sri Lanka— which has fewer services than the western world— from where he migrated to Canada in 1985.
Peel board services
In Peel Region alone, more than 400 students with ASD or developmental and intellectual disability attend PDSB schools in the cities of Brampton, Mississauga and the town of Caledon— 230 students in Parkholme and various satellite classes in Brampton and Caledon while 163 in Mississauga’s Applewood School and seven satellite classes. About 63 also attend special education programs at TL Kennedy.
Peel board runs these classes for intellectually disabled children between the ages of 14 and 21. During school hours, students get special training to become as independent as possible and to become successful in their lives.
Schools also focus on providing a variety of job-related trainings to students between the ages of 18 and 21 during the transition period.
Once students turn 19, they move to transition program for the last two years of their school experience where they learn and develop skills for practical life after school.
For a long time the Autism Society Canada has been warning and calling the autism situation in Canada an ‘alarming’ one.
Manju Saini, Asha’s techer at Parkholm School, said technology is playing a very crucial role in fight against autism.
“It (technology) is a very important tool,” said Saini. “Take the example of Asha. She is doing incredibly well with the technology. It’s a good sign that she knows the numbers and can communicate. She can also recognize pictures and do calendars on smart board or on her iPad.
“Years ago it was a different situation, but today we don’t have even keyboards or buttons… everything is just on the touch screens.”
Saini said Asha’s signs of improvement are encouraging and she hopes Asha will progress further with time such as doing daily routine work on her own.
“We also talk a lot about functional numeracy such as numbers and money. These are life skills, which everybody needs to learn. We also have lunch and grocery shopping programs in which kids learn how to do grocery shopping and how to use or spend money,” said Saini.
“This profession (teaching) is so rewarding,” said Saini. “Even when kids take one step forward, it means a lot for us and we feel so much better and satisfied… we celebrate their achievements.
In Asha’s class, there are eight students — all with autism spectrum disorder or developmentally delayed symptoms.
In Parkholme School, each child has different diagnoses, symptoms and health condition. Many children cannot communicate while others have two or more health conditions such as Fragile X syndrome, epileptic seizures and learning disabilities.
“We are very optimistic and hopeful,” said Suzanne Bennett, Principal of Parkholme School. “These kids can also learn, the only difference is that they learn at a slower pace.”
The school, equipped with most modern technology, closely works with parents and professionals like physiotherapists and occupational therapists. These therapists visit the school after every few weeks and assess students’ health conditions and provide proper treatment accordingly.
About facilities at school, Robert said: “We are happy with the teachers and facilities in the school, but we feel there is a dire need to recruit more teachers. The government should also invest more in research and provide better treatment, services and supports for the families.
“All employers and recruiters should also consider these children once they come of the school,” said Robert.
Moreover, Robert said public awareness about autism and acceptance of children with intellectual disability is also important.
“No matter what, Asha is my eyes,” said Robert. “She is very important for us and we can do anything for her. We want her to become independent in her life.”
Suggesting to the community, Robert said people are supposed to be very kind, helpful and supportive to disabled kids as they are supersensitive and have the ability to feel and sense which others cannot.
Together, Robert and Leila have two daughters, but one of them (Asha) is autistic.
“I have two daughters and both of them have separate rooms. We also decorate both the rooms exactly the same so that Asha doesn’t feel anything,” said Leila.
Similarly, Leila said they also shop similar dresses and other item of their needs and interests.
Currently there is no cure for autism, however, research shows that early intervention treatment can greatly improve a child’s development.
Mostly healthcare professionals recommend therapies like meditation or educational and behavioral therapies.
People with ASD may continue to require support as they get older while others are likely to work independently or perform well within a supportive environment.
“As a parent, you should be extra patient and don’t be frustrated. There is always light at the end of the tunnel,” said Leila.
By NOUMAN KHALIL