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Drive to register autistic children in Kisumu launched as numbers soar

The National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) has launched a drive to register children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Kisumu County to cushion caregivers grappling with the high cost of managing the condition.

This comes amidst a high number of cases being reported in the area with fears that some parents especially in the informal settlements were hiding children with the condition.

NCPWD County Coordinator George Odhiambo said the initiative targets to bring on board children with the condition to benefit from ongoing programmes offered by the council.

This, he said will also champion for their rights just like the other Persons With Disabilities (PWD’s) to ensure they have access to all government programmes targeting PWD’s.

The council, he said has embarked on mapping Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) cases in Kisumu to assess the status of the children and their needs with a view to rolling out a program specifically targeting them.

Odhiambo said the program, which is being rolled out for the first time in the area, will see the children benefit from free medical assessment, free medication where necessary, free occupational therapy, free speech therapy, diapers and scholarships.

NCPWD, he said was in talks with the Council of Governors (COG) and the County Government of Kisumu to ensure smooth rollout of the services at all the public health facilities.

“This will be a big relief to parents and caregivers who are heavily burdened with the high cost of therapy and medication,” he said.

Odhiambo said registration was ongoing at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH) and selected County Referral facilities asking parents and caregivers with autistic children to take advantage and register.

“This registration is very key because it is going to help us establish the exact number of cases we have in Kisumu so that we budget for them,” he said.

Parents and caregivers, he added are expected to carry their identification cards and the children’s birth certificates to be registered.

Speaking during World Autism Awareness Day celebrations in Kisumu, Odhiambo said cases of hiding children with disabilities, was the biggest impediment to the drive to enhance inclusivity for PWD’s in the county, cautioning parents against the vice.

“Opportunities are there. Other counties are already benefitting but when you hide your child you will later come and complain why others are reaping the benefits and you have been left out,” he said.

The registration, he added has been made easy on E-citizen platform calling on partners to help identify affected households and sponsor them for the exercise which costs Sh350 on the platform.

ASD is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain.

People with ASD often have problems with social communication and interaction, and have restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests.

They also have different ways of learning, moving or paying attention.

Dr. Joy Odhiambo a pediatrician working with autistic children in Kisumu County attributed what appears to be a surge in numbers to increased awareness and diagnosis.

“It is not that we have an increase in the number of ASD cases in Kisumu. What is happening is that many parents are now bringing their children for testing due to increased awareness on the condition,” he said.

ASD, she said can be effectively managed to allow the children live with it asking parents to stop hiding affected children.

Shortage of specialists, she added was a big challenge with the county lacking a speech therapist to support the children.

“As a county we are trying but not doing optimally. At the moment we have very few occupational therapists with no government employed speech therapist,” she said.

Caroline Agwanda, Kisumu County Governor Prof Anyang Nyong’o’s advisor on disability said the county government was keen on addressing the plight of autistic children in the area.

Through the partnership, he added the relevant county government organs have been directed to scale up awareness to ensure that all autistic children are registered in order to benefit from the initiative.

Betty Oyugi a mother taking care of an autistic child lauded the initiative saying it will go a long way in encouraging parents to bring forth their affected children.

Access to therapy, she said remained a big challenge, with one session costing up to Sh 2,000.

“You find that in a week the child may require two to three session which is out of reach to many parents,” he said.

Public schools, she added lack the capacity to accommodate autistic children.

As a result parents are struggling with the high cost of taking the children to private schools.

Farida Sat, Director Winam Child Without Limit, an NGO creating awareness on the condition in the area called for more support to parents and caregivers to cushion them against the challenges of managing the condition.

“They are overwhelmed. They need support including guidance and counselling to see them through. It is not easy,” she said.

By Chris Mahandara

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