Changing Perceptions

Bahrain has a long way to go when it comes to dealing with autism, but we’re on the road to developing a better understanding of the disorder.

Having dedicated the month of April to autism awareness, we decided to speak with special needs and disabilities advocate John Holmes, who teaches at the Children’s Academy in Bahrain. John has a master’s degree in autism in children and has worked in education for 15 years.

Before moving to Bahrain in mid-2011, he spent years working with special needs children at the Grange School in Bedfordshire. The first thing that we need to learn about autism, John believes, is that it’s a developmental disorder for which there is no known definite cause, and hence, no definite cure.

“The sooner parents realise that there are no quick fixes here and come to terms with the condition, the happier and more meaningful lives they can lead with their children,” he explains.

The stigma associated with the condition stems mainly from ignorance, but autism is a fascinating and mysterious subject to unravel. John is currently in talks with Bahrain TV for a documentary on autism that will be aired in Bahrain to promote its awareness and education.

At the Children’s Academy, the learning imparted to children is aimed at attaining independence, both at home as well as on the streets, so that these kids are self-sufficient. This includes functional skills, such as dressing themselves, as well as basic health and safety training.

“Children with autism are capable of academic feats, but many fall behind because they’re not being taught in a way that suits them. These children depend more on their sight and touch for learning, so the linguistic part should be simplified in the teaching process,” notes John.

The learning programme in his classroom is highly structured; using picture schedules and other visual clues to enable a child to feel safe in his space and work comfortably. John’s philosophy involves an acceptance of these children for what they are, simply because they don’t have a choice about their condition.

“Parents and care givers shouldn’t try to change them for it’s their essential right to be who they are. As long as they don’t harm themselves or anyone around, they should have the freedom to do what they want the way they want to,” he advises.

With the incidence of autism going up (one in 80 children have autism worldwide) in recent years, the government should map its autism demographic as well as lay the framework in managing this condition. Schools in Bahrain presently cater to children between six and 16, but there is a void afterwards.

“The UK has an annual review system to chart the process of special needs children as well as colleges of special education, where trained young autistic adults can attain work experience. It’s time for Bahrain to devise a plan to predict its future needs in this direction,” says John.

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