The Nakuru County Assembly has become the seventh devolved unit to initiate a motion seeking to provide educational requirements for children living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The motion which seeks to improve special education in the County also makes it mandatory for the education department to ensure specially equipped classrooms are provided in all learning institutions for children diagnosed with ASD.
The proposed legislation tabled on Thursday morning by Lakeview Ward MCA, Peter Karanja Mburu and seconded by his Gilgil town counterpart Jane Ngugi also intends to establish a referral facility for autism cases.
“Regardless of the fact that there is no known cure for autism, parents and education policy makers need to understand that the condition is manageable. When early intervention strategies are deployed children with the condition can successfully be reintegrated in the society as useful and productive citizens” said the Lake View MCA.
The neuro-development disorder was first described by Dr. Leo Kanner in 1943, after he conducted a study on 11 children who showed a lack of interest in other people, but a great interest in the inanimate environment.
ASD is a range of conditions which affect how a person communicates and interacts with the world around them, as well as their interests and behaviour.
It is a developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterized by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour.
If passed into law a compliance committee will be put in place to handle cases of institutions that will not have adhered to provisions of the Act and recommend necessary disciplinary action.
“We want to anchor into law policies that support children with autism in the county. It’s not a disease or an illness, but a condition that somebody is born with. Official statistics reveal that incidences of autism in Kenya are higher than pediatric cancer and diabetes combined. The stigma surrounding the condition will be a thing of the past if such legislations are enacted across the 47 counties,” Mburu said.
The county will be legally obligated to train specialized teachers to handle children with such conditions in ECDE centres,” said Mburu.
Other devolved units that have approved similar motions, include Nyandarua, Garissa, Baringo, Nairobi and Tharaka Nithi.
The Director to Autism Lights Incorporation, Maratu Chege hailed introduction of the motion, adding that it will ease the burden of the many families in the country.
He said if the proposed legislation was properly implemented, finding schools for autistic children will now be easy.
While seconding the motion, Ms. Ngugi said establishing early and accurate interventions such as diagnosis, therapy by specialists, referrals for severe autism and awareness on counter autism stigmatization will help autistic children and their families deal with the rising cases of the disorder in the county.
“Many children with autism have been neglected and stigmatized. Early diagnosis of the condition and training of specialized teachers to handle such in ECDE centres is a step in the right direction.
As we focus on expanding ECDE centres and increasing pupil enrollments special needs of our young autistic learners must be taken into account. This motion will ensure the county takes responsibility,” said the Gilgil MCA.
Statistics reveal that more boys than girls are diagnosed with developmental delays associated with ASD.
While there isn’t a given set of statistics in Kenya, autism is said to impact 1 in 59 children worldwide.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the global prevalence for ASD to be six per 1,000 children and even flagged it as an issue to be concerned about in May 2014.
Chege said children with autism are intelligent and if diagnosed early, they will develop normally just like their normal counterparts.
Autism Lights Incorporation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for those diagnosed with Autism played a role in the introduction of the motion after lobbying MCAs to enact the legislation.
Medical experts say if nutritional supplements are used concurrently with the physiotherapy programs they will help in containing autistic children’s sporadic fits of convulsions, depression, and inability to concentrate and reduce energy levels to clinically recommended thresholds.
Dr. Simon Theuri a Pediatric Physiotherapist at the Nakuru County Referral Hospital says clinical studies have attributed ASD to complications during child delivery.
Even as national statistics show that two among every 100 children between 17-37 months live with ASD. Dr. Theuri urges for hospital deliveries of babies and a close observation by parents during their growth.
While the cause of autism is not known, certain medical conditions are known to be associated with it like neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumours to form on nerve tissue. Epilepsy can also be associated with autism, in that epileptic children also develop autism.
Research has also shown that as autistic children grow older they are more likely to develop learning disorders.
The Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and autism can also coexist, meaning a child with ADHD can become autistic or an autistic child can develop ADHD.
A doctor can prescribe occupational therapy at rehabilitation units twice or three times a week depending on the child’s needs. Others might require speech therapy to re-learn the things they have regressed on as well as pick up on new language.
Elimination diet helps some children- this involves removing sugar, diary and gluten foods which the kids will have an aversion to.
This however doesn’t work for everybody. The diet might reduce the level of hyper activity and wondering aimlessly in one child, but may have little or no impact on another’s behaviour.
By Anne Mwale /Faith Kemunto